HIV Cure Hopes Dashed As Virus Returns in Two Patients

Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Hopes for a successful HIV cure were at an all-time high this summer when it was announced that two men were pronounced HIV-free after receiving bone marrow transplants. The doctors involved refused to call it a cure at the time, warning that the HIV virus could reappear at any time, concerns that seem prescient based on the news of the virus’s re-emergence in those patients.

CNN reports that the virus became detectable in one patient in August, whereas HIV became detectable this month in the other man, 32 weeks after therapy ceased.

“It’s disappointing,’ said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, via NBC News. “But it’s still taught us a great deal.”

Kuritzkes worked with Dr. Timothy Henrich to treat and study the two men originally reported to be cured of HIV. The patients had discontinued their use of HIV medicines following the apparently successful cure.

“Through this research we have discovered the HIV reservoir is deeper and more persistent than previously known and that our current standards of probing for HIV may not be sufficient to inform us if long-term HIV remission is possible if antiretroviral therapy is stopped,” Henrich said.

The doctors report that both patients have resumed their therapy and are currently doing well.

“We felt it would be scientifically unfair to not let people know how things are going, especially for potential patients,” Henrich said via The Boston Globe.

The procedure for the two individuals in question would not be viable for most HIV patients, as the men were also being treated for lymphoma at the time. They underwent aggressive chemotherapy treatments followed by bone marrow transplants. The hope was that they would be able to replicate the results of the so-called “Berlin Patient,” Timothy Brown, a man similarly afflicted by both cancer and HIV and believed to be the only man to have been functionally-cured of HIV.

The doctors, though disappointed, insist they will continue to work hard on a cure.

“We are continuing to recruit patients into the study,” Kuritzkes said. “It’s not a reason to give up research on a cure.”