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Two HIV-Positive Patients Are Now Virus-Free After Bone Marrow Transplant: Researchers


Some big news out of the HIV/AIDS research world: Dr. Timothy Henrich (above), a medical researcher with Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, announced today that two of his HIV-positive patients showed no trace of the virus after receiving stem-cell transplants.  Henrich's study was supported by amfAR, the international HIV/AIDS nonprofit, which issued a press release with further details:

The patients had been on long-term antiretroviral therapy for HIV when they developed lymphoma. To treat the cancer, the patients underwent reduced intensity chemotherapy followed by stem-cell transplants. Since the transplants, Dr. Henrich has been unable to find any evidence of HIV infection. 

With support from amfAR, he conducted a clinical study in which his research team withdrew the patients’ antiretroviral therapy and performed several sophisticated assays looking for signs of viral rebound in blood and other tissues. One patient has been off treatment with no detectable virus for approximately 15 weeks, and the second patient for seven weeks, with similar results. However, it is too soon to draw any definitive long-term conclusions.

Only one person has ever been 'cured' of HIV: Timothy Brown, also known as 'the Berlin patient,' who has been HIV-free for five years after receiving similar bone marrow transplants to the two new patients.  The marrow used for Brown's transplants, however, came from an individual with a specific genetic mutation that makes humans almost completely resistant to HIV infection.  The two Boston patients did not receive donations from individuals with this mutation.

AmfAR_FB_logoAs amfAR notes, it is unclear at this point whether or not the virus could return in the two patients over time.  A previous patient in a different National Institutes of Health study went 50 days without treatment before experiencing what is known as 'viral rebound'; both of Dr. Henrich's patients are at or past this threshold.  Further monitoring of the two patients will undoubtedly be needed to determine the long-term effects of stem-cell transplants for HIV-positive individuation.

"These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy," amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said in a statement. "While stem-cell transplantation is not a viable option for people with HIV on a broad scale because of its costs and complexity, these new cases could lead us to new approaches to treating, and ultimately even eradicating, HIV."

(Photo Lai Seng Sin via CT Post)

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  1. That is outstanding news. Along with the great work of Medical Researchers, all of us in our own small way must encourage all the folks we know to USE CONDOMS to avoid getting HIV in the first place.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 3, 2013 7:18:44 PM

  2. The "cure" is as risky as the disease except it's more painful and expensive.

    Posted by: Kev C | Jul 3, 2013 7:43:41 PM

  3. Hmmm...Brigham and Women's; that's the hospital my father died in. I lived on Mission Hill for years. I know it well. I also worked in a lab around the corner at New England Baptist for a few years.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 3, 2013 7:50:18 PM

  4. I agree. My father had a bone marrow transplant because he had cancer. Yes, the cancer was gone, but he was never physically the same afterwards. Sure it's progress, but I wouldn't exactly be jumping up and down at the prospect of a bone marrow transplant.

    Posted by: FakeOutrage | Jul 3, 2013 7:59:14 PM

  5. My friend who is HIV positive since 1995 was recently diagnosed with cancer. After radiation and before completion of his chemo, he went into remission for the cancer. He is scheduled for a massive dose of chemo and then stem cell transplantation in two weeks. I certainly hope this makes him HIV free and cancer free. The HIV drugs have been very hard on him, it would be nice if this therapy actually is a cure and he could stop his HIV drug regimen. I've spoken to several people who were not HIV positive, but had the same cancer diagnoses and stem cell transplant. Within a year following the procedure they were back to work full time and remain cancer free. I am really hoping for the best for my friend. Medical science is making great strides.

    Posted by: Bob R | Jul 3, 2013 9:16:58 PM

  6. This is yet more grandstanding from scientists and the drugs firms that fund their research. These drugs firms are the most corrupt bunch of corporations you can imagine. Their anti-viral drugs have caused the deaths of many gay men.

    Posted by: simon | Jul 3, 2013 9:35:06 PM

  7. I hope this leads to new treatments but oh lord I don't want a bone marrow transplant. It is so painful. And knowing that other people need it. This is all subjective. How hard is it to get bone marrow? I feel like it would be hard choice knowing you can live your life with HIV now.

    Posted by: Tonez | Jul 3, 2013 11:06:23 PM

  8. @Kev C: What's interesting is that the results seem to indicate that it is possible to eliminate HIV. One obvious next step is to see if there is some way of getting the same effect in some way that is a lot safer than a bone-marrow transplant.

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 3, 2013 11:49:38 PM

  9. A bone marrow transplant does not sound like inexpensive. Not a route I would want to take. Give me a condom!

    Posted by: Matt F | Jul 4, 2013 12:14:16 AM

  10. 20% mortality risk. I don't think so

    Posted by: Tony C | Jul 4, 2013 3:12:47 AM

  11. I have read this news yesterday and aside from the fact that a bone-marrow transplant sounds like a hideously, dangerous and invasive operation, wouldn't it also be true that even if HIV is eradicated, that the patient will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives to ensure their bodies don't reject the transplant i.e. they will still be on medication forever.

    Posted by: MaryM | Jul 4, 2013 5:01:30 AM

  12. Great news!
    How much more advanced would we be without bush's ban on stem cell research?

    Posted by: rick scatorum | Jul 4, 2013 8:08:54 AM

  13. Life has a 100% mortality risk. Let's just avoid it!

    Posted by: yuninv | Jul 4, 2013 10:42:23 AM

  14. Of course they're grandstanding. Science is full of greed and fraudulent marketing just like the financial services business, the real estate business, the antiques business, the art world, etc.

    Why come out with this now? I hate to be so cynical but it probably has to do with $.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 4, 2013 11:43:01 AM

  15. What I want to know is why there isn't a test for the HIV-resistant gene? Wouldn't that be a load off your mind, if you found out you were immune?

    Posted by: lessthan | Jul 4, 2013 12:04:30 PM

  16. To prepare you for a stem-cell transplant, they first kill your entire immune system. You must be in complete sterile environment, and the possibility of a life-threatening opportunistic infection is high. Painful and extremely risky.

    Posted by: Raybob | Jul 4, 2013 12:18:10 PM

  17. "Why come out with this now?"

    because they had the evidence they needed for a reasonable conclusion

    "One patient has been off treatment with no detectable virus for approximately 15 weeks, and the second patient for seven weeks, with similar results. However, it is too soon to draw any definitive long-term conclusions."

    "I hate to be so cynical but it probably has to do with $."

    and yes it has to do with money bone marrow transplants are very expensive HIV related or not.

    i know you are generally an asshat, but can you really be this dense...

    Posted by: epic | Jul 4, 2013 12:34:00 PM

  18. lessthan: Of course there is. 23andme tests for it for example. They also test for genes affecting HIV progression. I wouldn't expect too much though. Immunity is extremely rare and not complete.

    Posted by: sid | Jul 4, 2013 12:52:04 PM

  19. This isn't so much a cure as a side-effect of the cancer treatment. Another shot-in-the-dark side-effect of some cancer treatments: a "cure" for baldness!

    Posted by: anon | Jul 4, 2013 1:06:16 PM

  20. @epic,

    Yes, I know it's about $, and I already understand the reasons why. Didn't need you to educate me. Thanks anyway.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 4, 2013 2:49:37 PM

  21. @epic,

    Yes, I know it's about $, and I already understand the reasons why. Didn't need you to educate me. Thanks anyway.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 4, 2013 2:49:37 PM

  22. And don't ever call me an asshat again! I may not be smart but name calling is wrong.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 5, 2013 8:49:00 AM

  23. Only on here would people be complaining about people being essentially cured of HIV.

    Posted by: Amazed | Jul 5, 2013 10:09:16 AM

  24. Unlike the berlin patient who got marrow with the delta32 mutation these two were "cured" because they were still taking their anti-retrovirus meds after the operation. And no, you are on anti-rejection drugs from 6 months to about a year not for the rest of your life.

    Posted by: gatoinfeliz | Jul 7, 2013 11:34:13 AM

  25. Please help me thank dr.abegbe for his good work I really believe HIV have cure I was HIV positive over since 1year plus before I come across a comment dr.abegbe that he have cure to any disease and virus but want I saw it i have it in mind that he can’t cure HIV I just decided to give a try I contact him that night lucky to me he said yes but I don’t believe him I think it was a scam or some thing like that but I still hold on to see the work of dr.abegbe if he is saying the true he ask for different thing and some question about me I give him all the detail he needed and I wait to see his reply to my problem after all the thing is done he ask me to go for check up I went for hiv test I cant believe I ws negative thanks dr.abegbe for help me for not dying at this young age if you need help contact him now Dr.Abegbespellhome@Gmail.Com

    Posted by: JULIA | Jul 13, 2013 1:32:17 PM

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