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Bone marrow transplant frees two men of HIV drugs

By Michael Thomas     Jul 3, 2013 in Science
Scientists recently announced that two HIV-positive men have shown no signs of HIV in their bodies after receiving a bone marrow transplant.
The miraculous news came out during a talk at the International AIDS Society conference in Kuala Lampur. While scientists are saying it's too early to say that they have found a cure, the news is raising hopes that treatments may, at some point in the future, help to eradicate HIV completely.
BBC News reports that after receiving the transplant, one of the men showed no signs of HIV in his blood for two years, and the other man showed no traces for four years.
"While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured," said Timothy Henrich, from the division of infectious diseases at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Centre in Boston. "Long-term follow up of at least one year will be required to understand the full impact of a bone marrow transplant on HIV persistence."
While scientists have not found any traces of HIV so far, it could still be in the brain or gastrointestinal tract, Henrich added.
The two patients stopped taking antiretroviral drugs earlier this year.
Bone marrow is thought to be a major container for HIV cells since it's a manufacturer of new blood cells. Transplants are not a miracle cure, however, as marrow transplants carry a 15-20 percent mortality rate.
The two men are not the first to be "cured" of HIV, as reported by the Toronto Star. The first man, referred to as "the Berlin patient," was cured in 2007.
However, a key difference in these two cases is that "the Berlin patient" received marrow from a donor who was genetically resistant to HIV. The two men in the current case both received marrow from normal donors.
Henrich also told the BBC: "Five years ago if you'd mentioned a cure, research people wouldn't have taken you seriously. We're not there yet. Are we close? Probably not, but who knows? This could be a rapid learning curve in the next few years."
More about HIV, Bone marrow, Bone marrow transplant, Hiv infection, Aids