HIV Returns In Men 'Cured' Of Virus Via Bone Marrow Transplants
Researchers at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital have revealed that a study which appeared to have eradicated HIV in two patients via bone marrow transplants has now had a setback as HIV has recurred in both patients.
The study was led by Dr. Timothy Henrich and Henrich revealed the news during an international conference of AIDS researchers in Florida this past Thursday.
Henrich explains, “We felt it would be scientifically unfair to not let people know how things are going, especially for potential patients."
The two patients in the Boston study had battled HIV for years. They agreed to stop taking their HIV medications earlier this year to test whether the medicine was holding the infections in check, or whether it was the transplant of healthy donor bone marrow cells each received that was vanquishing signs of the virus in their bodies. Both had received the transplants after chemotherapy and other treatments had failed to stop their Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood.
For weeks, Henrich’s team carefully tested the patients’ blood, searching for signs of HIV. In July, with one patient off the HIV medications for seven weeks, and the other patient off for 15, the scientists reported their early, encouraging results: They could find no trace of the virus in their blood cells.
But in August, the scientists detected HIV in one of the patients, who then resumed taking medication. The other remained seemingly HIV-free. Concerned about the ethics of continuing the study, the scientists gave the patient the choice of going back on the drugs. The patient opted to stay off the medicine.
Last month, after eight months with no HIV detected, signs of the virus reemerged and the patient went back on medication, too.
Henrich said the reemergence of the virus demonstrates that HIV reservoirs — latent cells that carry the genetic code of HIV — are lurking deeper in the body and are more persistent than scientists had realized.
“This suggests that we need to look deeper, or we need to be looking in other tissues . . . the liver, gut, and brain,” Henrich said. “These are all potential sources, but it’s very difficult to obtain tissue from these places so we don’t do that routinely.”
While these new developments are disappointing, it's also important to acknowledge the benefits of this study.
Dr. Steven Deeks, who attended the Florida conference says, “There are a lot of hurdles. But this [the Boston researchers’ approach] dramatically advanced the cure research agenda.”
Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine at UMass Medical School concurs, saying: “This is certainly telling us a lot about persistence, what we need to do, and how low we need to drop the levels of HIV reservoirs in order to allow patients to achieve remission."
Let's hope that what's been learned in the Boston study encourages new progress!