Bone marrow transplant busts HIV in two patients

Two HIV-positive patients in the US who had undergone bone marrow transplants for cancer are off anti-retroviral therapy with no detectable sign of the HIV virus, AP reported citing researchers.

The report said that the Harvard University researchers stressed yesterday that it was too early to say the men had been cured, though it was an encouraging sign that the virus had not rebounded in their blood months after the drug treatment was stopped.

American Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV, underwent a stem cell transplant in 2007 to treat his leukemia and was reported by his German doctors to have been cured of HIV two years later.

Brown had benefited from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that provided resistance against HIV. Similar results using ordinary donor cells such as those given to the two patients by the Harvard University researchers had not been observed till now.

Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the research said last year that blood samples taken from the men with blood cancers - showed no signs of the dreaded HIV virus eight months after bone marrow transplants to replace cancerous blood cells with healthy donor cells. The men were undergoing treatment with HIV drugs at the time.

According to the BBC, one of the patients has been off medication nearly for four months with no sign of the virus returning.

The doctors caution though that it was much too early to talk about a cure as the virus could return at any point, the BBC reports.

The team presented it findings at the International Aids Society Conference.

An HIV infection is difficult to rid as the virus hides inside human DNA, forming untouchable "reservoirs" in body.

Anti-retroviral drugs can only keep the virus in check within the bloodstream, but the virus springs back when the treatment is stopped.

The two men, who were not identified, had lived with HIV for about 30 years, with both developing a cancer, lymphoma, which required a bone-marrow transplant.

Following the transplant, one of the patients had no detectable HIV in the blood for two years while the other was free of the infection in blood for four years.

According to commentators it was much too early for this to be called a cure for HIV. And even if it was a cure, it would not be a very good one.