Researchers report HIV cure through blood transfusion
15 December 2010
Researchers in Germany say they may have cured a man of HIV infection. According to medical experts, if it is true, it would represent a scientific advance, though not necessarily a treatment advance.
The study was published last week online in the journal Blood. Researchers at Charite-University Medicine Berlin treated an HIV-infected man who also had acute myeloid leukemia -- a cancer of the immune system. They destroyed his own immune system using high-dose chemotherapy and radiation and gave him a stem-cell transplant. Stem cells can grow to become normal blood cells.
The patient, at the time of transplant in February 2007, stopped taking anti-HIV medications.
Thirteen months into the treatment he underwent a relapse of leukemia followed by a second round of treatment and another stem cell transplant from the same donor.
The donor's stem cells contained a rare, inherited gene mutation that rendered them naturally resistant to HIV infection the authors say. They had hypothesised that the HIV would reappear over time, but this did not happen.
The researchers report that though the patient has been off-anti-HIV drugs for three-and-a-half years he has no signs of either leukemia or HIV replication and his immune system is now healthy and functioning normally. They concluded that the results strongly suggest that the cure of HIV had been achieved in the patient.
However according to AIDS researchers, the report would hardly impact practice as this could possibly be a cure but it demanded a bit of a price, according to Dr Michael Saag, professor of medicine and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham AIDS Center.
Medical experts say the study provides a proof of the correctness of the understanding of HIV biology and that of the concept that if all the cells in the body producing HIV could be replaced with uninfected normal cells, HIV could be cured.
However, HIV infection is not always associated with the fatal outcome that was the norm in the '90s, following which more effective drugs against the infection have been developed.
It is now possible to keep HIV infected people in reasonably good health even up to the 90s.
Another dampener to the treatment's potential appeal is the cost factor which could involved hundreds of thousands of dollars for each patient who gets it, he said.