Two Men Now HIV Free After Treatment With Adult Stem Cells

Bioethics   Steven Ertelt   Jul 3, 2013   |   4:12PM    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Scientists say two men are reportedly HIV free thanks to treatment with adult stem cells.

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital spoke at a an AIDS research conference during which he and his team announced details about two cancer patients whose treatment appears to have eradicated their HIV infections.

From an NBC report:

Two men who had grueling bone marrow treatments for cancer are enjoying a happy side effect: They appear free of the AIDS virus, researchers reported on Wednesday.

The doctors are not quite ready to call it a cure, but they say the men have stopped taking HIV drugs and have remained free of the virus for almost four months in one case and almost two months in another.

“While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured,” says Dr. Timothy Henrich of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The cases of the two men, who don’t want their names released, were first reported at an international AIDS conference in Washington last July. Henrich, Dr.Daniel Kuritzkes and colleagues had actively looked for HIV patients with leukemia or lymphoma who had received bone marrow stem cell transplants.

They wanted to replicate the case of Timothy Brown, also known as the “Berlin patient,” who was treated for leukemia with a bone marrow transplant that happened to come from a donor with a genetic mutation that makes immune cells resist HIV infection. The transplant replaced his own infected cells with healthy, AIDS-resistant cells, and he remains free of the virus more than five years later.

They found three patients who had remained on HIV regimens while undergoing bone marrow transplants, which are designed to destroy the cancer and replace diseased blood and immune systems with healthy ones from donors.

The patients’ own bone marrow is destroyed, usually with chemotherapy or radiation, and replaced with a tissue-matched transplant from a donor.

Henrich said at the time that the AIDS cocktails likely protected the new transplanted bone marrow from infection.

One patient is HIV-free nearly three years later, and the other more than four years later. Each made the choice to discontinue his AIDS drugs a few weeks ago.

The Timothy Brown case is perhaps the most famous of the AIDS treatment cases using stem cells. The story is indeed captivating–Brown has experienced a functional cure of his AIDS due to a targeted adult stem cell transplant.

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The story first broke in 2008, and initial transplant results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Brown was treated for leukemia with an adult stem cell transplant, which is becoming a standard treatment. But the doctors, knowing that Brown had AIDS, used specific adult stem cells from a donor selected because the donor’s cells lacked a key protein, CCR5, that the AIDS virus must bind to infect a cell. Not only did Brown recover from his leukemia, but the AIDS virus seemed to disappear from his system.

More recently in late 2010, Mr. Brown was identified as the patient and the doctors put forth a tentative claim of a cure. The most recent paper, “Evidence for the cure of HIV infection by CCR5Δ32/Δ32 stem cell transplantation“, was published in the journal Blood.