An HIV-positive leukaemia patient has been cured of the sexually transmitted infection by a bone marrow transplant, according to scientists.
Bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a genetic resistance to HIV were harvested and used in the transplant and the patient now has no sign of infection.
Hopes that the cure could be rolled out to more HIV suffers have been dashed, however, after British experts said bone marrow transplants were not a practical way to treat HIV infection.
Nevertheless, they said they were impressed by the results. Dr Andrew Freedman, from Cardiff University School of Medicine, said: “A cure for HIV, as opposed to lifelong suppressive therapy, has long been sought after. This single case report shows that this is achievable but the stem cell transplant procedure involved is much too complex, risky and expensive for routine use.”
German scientists led by Dr Kristina Allers, from Charite-University Medicine Berlin, wrote in the journal Blood online: “From these results, it is reasonable to conclude that cure of HIV infection has been achieved in this patient.”
The donor stem cells replaced the patient’s HIV-infected population of CD4 white blood cells. The stem cells had a genetic variant known to prevent invasions by the HIV virus.
After the transplant, it was found that HIV replication in the patient had stopped. However, doctors expected the virus to return as the patient’s cancer-damaged immune system was being rebuilt.
The new follow-up study shows this did not happen. Instead scientists found successful reconstitution of “healthy” CD4 cells throughout the patient’s body.
CD4 cells are vital “helper” T-cells which activate and direct other elements of the immune system.
The researchers wrote: “By monitoring the most common prognostic markers, HIV cannot be assessed in this patient.”