Boston doctors believe Timothy Ray Brown, the Berlin Patient, was not just a one-off after two more patients are believed to have been 'cured' with cancer treatment.
Two men may have been ‘cured’ of HIV in Boston.
The patients, who underwent bone marrow transplants several years ago for cancer, no longer have any detectable levels of HIV in their blood cells.
It is too early to tell whether they are still infected with the virus, so doctors are cautious about saying the two are ‘cured’.
‘I don’t want to use the “cure” word,’ said Doctor Timothy Henrich, a Brigham infectious diseases associate physician leading the study, according to Boston News.
‘If they remain virus-free in a year, or even two years, after [stopping] therapy, then we can make a statement that the chances of the virus returning are very low.’
Henrich’s team are presenting its findings at the International AIDS Society Conference in Malaysia today (3 July).
Last summer, it was first reported that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was easily detected in the patients’ blood prior to their bone marrow transplants but could not be found eight months after the surgery.
The two men suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood.
At the time, the men remained on HIV medications for safe-keeping. But now, the two patients have stopped taking their medications, with one coming off 15 weeks ago, and the other seven weeks ago.
The researchers carefully tested the patients’ blood weekly, and said they could find no signs of HIV. Henrich also removed and tested a piece of tissue from one of the patient’s intestines.
‘HIV could still be hiding in the brain, gut or lymph nodes,’ Henrich said.
The Boston findings are remarkably similar to the ‘Berlin patient’ called Timothy Ray Brown, who was given a bone marrow transplant for leukaemia and appeared to have been cured of HIV.
He is believed to have been the only person to be cured of HIV.
It was later found the bone marrow donor had a genetic mutation, CCR5-delta32, which is thought to provide resistance to the virus.
Since then, many doctors have longed to see if it was possible to genetically alter bone marrow cells to resemble the CCR5-delta32 mutation.
That way, they could give HIV patients their own genetically altered cells to wipe out the virus.
Bone marrow transplants are risky and possibly lethal, with doctors saying it is not a practical or ethical way of treating HIV.
In a statement made to Gay Star News, HIV and AIDS charity Terrence Higgins Trust’s Medical Director Dr Michael Brady said this case suggests the Berlin Patient was perhaps not a one-off.
He said: ‘For most people with HIV, it would be more dangerous to undergo a transplant than to continue managing the virus with daily medication.
‘While this is by no means a workable cure, it does give researchers another sign-post in the direction of one.
‘Until a cure is found, we urge people to continue using condoms and testing for HIV if they’ve put themselves at risk.’
The two, who were not identified, were ‘very positive’ about participating to help further research, Henrich said.
The patients will continue to be tested weekly and their medications will be returned if HIV is detected.