Have researchers finally discovered an HIV cure? Two men who had undergone bone-marrow transplants have been taken off their HIV drugs after the virus disappeared from their bodies.
According to doctors who performed the bone marrow transplants, one of the men has been off his HIV drugs for four months with no noticeable signs of the virus.
The bone marrow transplants were performed by a group of doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Doctors warn that the virus could return at any time, and therefore they are not yet calling their procedure a cure.
Finding from the procedures were presented at the International Aids Society Conference.
An HIV cure is difficult to create because the disease can hide inside human DNA and then reappears after drugs are no longer being taken. Anti-viral drugs simply keep HIV at bay by isolating it to the blood stream.
Both of the men who received treatment had been living with HIV for nearly 30 years. The men had both developed lymphoma, which required a bone-marrow transplant to combat.
Bone marrow is the area in which new blood cells formed, and it is believed to be one of the best hiding places for HIV.
Following surgery, there was no detectable HIV in the blood of one participant for two years and four years for the second patient.
Even if the procedure proves to be an HIV cure, it would not be a cure that offers mass appeal. Bone marrow transplants can lead to “graft-v-host” disease, and the procedure is very expensive. Bone marrow transplants also suffer from a 15-20% mortality rate within the first few years following the transplant.
While the two men are no longer taking anti-retroviral drugs, they must now take drugs that suppress the immune system.
While the bone marrow transplants might not be a direct HIV cure they may help scientists gain a better understanding of how they can stop and eradicate HIV in the future. If the virus does not return in either patient, it could mean that bone marrow needs to be targeted for future treatments in order to cure HIV.