Two Men HIV-Free After New Adult Stem Cell Breakthrough

Bioethics   |   Andrew Bair   |   Jul 30, 2012   |   10:50AM   |   Washington, DC

Adult stem cells are responsible for another incredible scientific breakthrough.

On Thursday at the AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington, DC, researchers unveiled that two HIV-positive men have been found to be HIV-free following bone marrow transplants. Researchers believe giving bone marrow transplants, which by nature involve the use of adult stem cells, to patients undergoing anti-retroviral therapy could potentially cure the AIDS-causing virus.

“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,” said Dr. Timothy Henrich, one of the researchers studying the two men. “It 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.”

Only time will tell if the two men have been permanently cured of the virus. “Studies over time including biopsies of lymphatic tissue would be required,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert from University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The breakthrough bears similarities to the case of Timothy Ray Brown, known as “the Berlin patient,” who says he continues to be cured of HIV after receiving a transplant of cells found to have a genetic mutations making them HIV-resistant.

Bone marrow transplants mark one of the earliest uses of adult stem cells. The first successful one was performed in 1968. Today, they are used to treat a host of blood and bone marrow diseases, blood cancers, and immune disorders. Beyond their use in bone marrow transplants, adult stem cells are used to cure or treat nearly 80 diseases. In contrast to the widely successful adult stem cells, embryonic stem cell research requires taking the life of a living human embryo and has produced no success stories.

Recently, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced he would be a national spokesman for Give Cures- The John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute, an organization committed to advancing ethical adult stem cell research.



Santorum said, “It’s exciting to be a part of innovative research that uses cutting-edge, disease-specific adult stem cells to find treatments for rare diseases and cancer. Human life at the earliest stage is still a life- valued, loved, and created by God, and I believe to use and kill a human embryo for research is wrong. Creating ethical stem cell lines for people with rare diseases is ethical and innovative.”