A German may have been inadvertently cured of his HIV infection with a bone marrow transplant, researchers claim. It seems the 2007 transplant – which was to treat the man’s leukemia – may have eliminated any trace of HIV; he has remained free from the disease since and this has excited research scientists.
The new claims were recently publish in the online journal Blood. Scientists at the Charite Medical University in Berlin treated a man with acute myeloid leukemia with a bone marrow transplant. The patient – who had also contracted the HIV virus – had stopped taking his anti-viral medication in the lead up to the transplant. Following a relapse of the leukemia over a year later, he underwent a second transplant, using the original donor.
Unusual genetic mutation
It was documented in the research that the donor’s stem cells contained an unusual genetic mutation, which made them naturally resistant to HIV infection; this mutation prevented the HIV infection from affecting certain immune cells (CD4 cells), so during the transplant, scientists were able to restructure the patient’s supply of CD4 cells to complement a healthy person’s. None of the old CD4 cells remained afterwards and the virus remained undetected in the body.
Kristina Allers - one of the authors of the report – speculated that the infection would return after a period of time, but as of yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The patient has been free from any of the symptoms of HIV or leukemia, while his immune system seems to be working optimally.
Isolating this patient’s condition almost four years down the line, Allers thinks the results strongly suggest that his cure of HIV has been achieved, while Jerome Zack – a researcher at the University of California, who studies HIV infections – suggested that there may be a long term benefit to what has transpired in Germany.
Not a practical solution
However, AIDS researchers claim it isn’t a practical or a viable solution and will have little or no impact on the eradication of HIV.
Michael Saag – Professor of Medicine and Director of the University of Alabama’s AIDS Centre – intimated that it was probably a cure in this particular case, but it was highly unlikely this scenario could be replicated in the future.
He contended for this patient to receive these donor cells his whole immune system had to be wiped out before the “ hazardous” transplant and even if the patient didn’t die from the procedure, his life would be very unpleasant thereafter; referring to the chances of graft-versus-host disease, where the infused donor cells attack the host’s body.
Mr. Saag continued that the treatment would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient, and it would probably be rendered redundant unless the patient developed leukemia or lymphoma, and needed a bone marrow transplant.
Realistically, the results would need to be replicated in another patient before any serious contentions can be made regarding its viability as a method of treating HIV. There’s also the matter of practicality; only one per cent of Europeans are thought to have this genetic mutation.