Via The Hartford Courant, a Los Angeles Times report: Berlin Patient, first person cured of HIV, may soon have company. Excerpt:
The Berlin Patient, the only person considered cured of HIV, may soon have some company.
Researchers at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., made presentations Thursday on two HIV-positive men from Boston who developed lymphoma. In both cases, their treatment included a bone marrow transplant, which results in a new immune system. The bone marrow donors did not have HIV.
The patients were conditioned for their transplants with a reduced-intensity protocol that allowed them to maintain enough strength to continue taking antiretroviral drugs to keep their HIV in check. These drugs are usually too toxic for HIV-positive cancer patients to handle.
So far, it appears that their new immune systems have remained HIV-free. Seventeen months after the transplants, researchers could not detect any HIV genetic material in the patients’ blood. They say the credit for this goes to the antiretroviral drugs the patients are taking.
Still unclear is whether the virus still lurks in the patients’ tissues. “It is possible that there is still other residual HIV material, “said study author Dr. Timothy Henrich of Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital. If doctors became convinced that all trace of the virus is gone, the patients could stop taking the antiretroviral drugs and be considered cured.
But they’re not there yet.
“We’re being very careful to refer to our patients as not being functionally cured,” said study author Daniel Kuritzkes, also of Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Only when these patients can successfully stop their medication can they be considered cured of HIV.
The only person in that category right now is the Berlin Patient, a.k.a. Timothy Brown. He had a bone marrow transplant to treat acute myeloid leukemia. In his case, the bone marrow donor was not only HIV-negative, but had a rare genetic mutation that blocks HIV from entering cells. That effectively makes Brown immune to the virus, and his body has remained HIV-free even without taking antiretroviral drugs.
The two patients in Boston received their bone marrow transplants from people who did not have the rare genetic variant, which is why they are still taking their drugs.