Two men with HIV no longer have detectable blood levels of the virus after receiving bone marrow transplants for their cancers, according to news reports.
“We expected HIV to vanish from the patients’ plasma, but it is surprising that we can’t find any traces of HIV in their cells,” one of the researchers, Dr. Timothy Henrich, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told ABC News. The network reported that the men received the bone marrow transplants while also being treated with anti-retrovirals.
Usually people with HIV are taken off their anti-retrovirals before cancer treatment, NBC News reported.
The finding “suggests that under the cover of anti-retroviral therapy, the cells that repopulated the patient’s immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV,” Henrich told ABC News.
NBC News pointed out that the men still have undetectable HIV levels even two years after receiving the transplants.
However, the Boston Globe pointed out that it’s still too soon to say that these men have been full-on cured of HIV, since they are still on the anti-retrovirals. There’s no firm word on whether they will go off of the medication.
Researchers cautioned that this approach probably won’t work for everyone with HIV, NBC News reported. The men possessed specific gene mutations, and bone marrow transplants are an arduous process for the patient — sometimes even fatal — and they are also extremely expensive, the Boston Globe reported.
“We’re not going to be doing bone marrow transplants on healthy HIV-infected patients who are doing well on antiretroviral therapy,” study researcher Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes told the Boston Globe.
The findings, presented at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, come just days after Timothy Ray Brown — the “Berlin patient” who was considered cured of HIV after undergoing a bone marrow stem cell transplant for his leukemia — said at the conference that any reports that he still has HIV in his body are untrue, the Associated Press reported. Recently, there had been controversy over a presentation suggesting Brown still had traces of HIV genes in his body — and whether that meant that he actually still had HIV.
Brown initially received the bone marrow stem cell transplants because of non HIV-related leukemia, but the transplants came from a person whose cells were HIV-resistant. After he had received the transplants, Brown’s HIV didn’t come back and he didn’t have to take anti-retroviral medication anymore. Scientists considered him cured.
However, these two new cases are different from Brown’s because the two men are still on anti-retroviral drugs, while Brown was able to go off of them after his transplant.