After having bone marrow transplants, two male patients were taken off their HIV medication earlier this year and appear to be HIV free.
The two men, who have not been identified, both received bone marrow transplants after developing lymphoma, a form of cancer. One man had the transplant two years ago and the other four years ago. After the transplants they were still given their anti-viral drugs and have shown no signs of the virus in their systems.
One of the patients was taken off the antiviral medication 15 weeks ago and the other patient seven weeks ago, with no signs of the virus resurfacing in their systems.
Although this is good news, a medical team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in the US, warn that this is not believed to be a cure, yet, because the virus could return.
The virus is difficult to fight because it can hide in what is called DNA reservoirs in the body, places such as brain tissue, the gastrointestinal track and the bone marrow.
The transplanted bone marrow is treated with antiviral drugs to protect it from the virus, while the remaining bone marrow which harbors the virus is attacked by the transplant.
Dr Timothy Henrich told the BBC the results were exciting, but said, “We have not demonstrated cure, we’re going to need longer follow-up.”
“What we can say is if the virus does stay away for a year or even two years after we stopped the treatment, that the chances of the virus rebounding are going to be extremely low.”
“It’s much too early at this point to use the C-word (cure).”
Dr. Henrich added that if the virus returns it suggests that there are other sites harboring a reservoir of infectious virus and other approaches will be needed to address these sites in order to develop new strategies for the cure of HIV.
While these two men are not the first persons to be treated and become HIV free, they are the first adults in the U.S.
Timothy Brown, a Berlin patient, is the first person treated with a bone marrow transplant and have no further signs of the virus. He was given the bone marrow of a person who was resistant to HIV.
The two U.S. patients were given the bone marrow of normal donors.
There is also the baby born in Mississippi, who was treated with anti-retroviral drugs at birth and showed no signs of the virus after treatment.
Dr Michael Brady, the medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is too early to know whether HIV has been eradicated from these men’s bodies or whether it might return.”
“However, the case suggests that what happened to Timothy Brown, the Berlin Patient was perhaps not a one-off.”
“A bone marrow transplant is a complex and expensive procedure, which comes with significant risks.”
Higgins goes on to say that bone marrow transplant presents a significant danger to patients and it would be safer to manage the virus with daily medication.
The head of the Foundation for AIDS Research, Kevin Frost, said: “These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy.”
“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.”
While these two men present hope for working towards a treatment to eradicate HIV, bone marrow transplants may not be the best avenue for all HIV patients because of the danger and costs, but it does present more positive research findings and maybe medical science is closer to discovering the cure.
By; Veverly Edwards