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Man Cured Of HIV After Stem Cell Transplant

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Man freed of HIV after stem cell transplant to cure leukemia….

A HIV patient who underwent a stem cell transplant, originally intended to treat leukemia, appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms.

The procedure to implant the donor stem cells, carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, was carried out two years ago. The patient has remained free from the disease ever since.

man free from hiv after stem cell transplant Man Cured Of HIV After Stem Cell Transplant

“The patient is fine,” said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany. “Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication.”

Although the medical team’s aim had been to treat the man’s leukemia, they deliberately chose a compatible donor who has a naturally occurring gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV.

The mutation cripples the CCR5 receptor, the type of immune system cells attacked by HIV. The mutation is known as CCR5 delta32 and is found in 1 percent to 3 percent of white populations of European descent.

HIV latches on to the CCR5 (and CD4) receptors begins to destroy immune system cells. Because the virus can not latch on to cells that lack CCR5, people who have the mutation have natural protection (although there are several, less common strains of HIV that use different co-receptors).

Studies suggest that people who inherit one copy of CCR5 delta32 take longer to get sick or develop AIDS if infected with HIV. People with two copies (one from each parent) may not become infected at all.

While the results seem promising, Dr. Jay Levy, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said that the treatment is unlikely to help the vast majority of people infected with HIV:

“A stem cell transplant is too extreme and too dangerous to be used as a routine treatment…
“About a third of the people die [during such transplants], so it’s just too much of a risk,”

To perform a stem cell transplant, doctors intentionally destroy the patient’s immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to infection. Donor stem cells are then reintroduced in an effort to establish a new healthy immune system.

Levy also noted that although possible, it seemed unlikely that the stem cell transplant truly cured the patient. HIV can infect many other types of cells and could still be hiding out in the mans body.

“This type of virus can infect macrophages (another type of white blood cell that expresses CCR5) and other cells, like the brain cells, and it could live a lifetime. But if it can’t spread, you never see it– but it’s there and it could do some damage…
“It’s not the kind of approach that you could say, ‘I’ve cured you.’ I’ve eliminated the virus from your body.”

Researchers including Dr. Hutter agree that the technique should not be used to treat HIV alone.

“There is no really conclusive explanation why we didn’t observe any rebound of HIV..
“This finding is very surprising.”

Hutter suggested a safer approach to the same effect would be to develop some type of CCR5-disabling gene therapy or treatment that could be directly injected into the body.

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