x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Two stem cell patients stop HIV drugs, show no detectable sign of the virus

Two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have stopped antiretroviral therapy and still show no detectable sign of HIV.

KUALA LUMPUR // Two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have stopped antiretroviral therapy and still show no detectable sign of HIV.

The Harvard University researchers stressed it was too early to say the men have been cured, but said it was an encouraging sign that the virus has not rebounded in their blood months after drug treatment ended.

The researchers, Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, announced last year that blood samples taken from the men - who both had blood cancers - showed no traces of HIV eight months after they received bone marrow transplants to replace cancerous blood cells with healthy donor cells. The men were still on anti-HIV drugs at the time.

The men have both since stopped antiretroviral therapy - one 15 weeks ago and the other seven weeks ago - and show no signs of the virus, Mr Henrich told an international Aids conference in Malaysia yesterday.

"They are doing very well," Mr Henrich said. "While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured. Only time will tell."

The HIV may be hiding in other organs such as the liver, spleen or brain and could return months later.

Further testing of the men's cells, plasma and tissue for at least a year will help give a clearer picture on the full effect of the transplant on HIV persistence, he said.

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

Mr Brown's doctors used a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that provides resistance against HIV. So far, no one has observed similar results using ordinary donor cells such as those given to the two Boston patients.

Mr Kuritzkes said the patients will be put back on the drugs if there is a viral rebound.