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Another breakthrough in finding an HIV cure?

Dr. Timothy Henrich of Harvard Medical School, an amfAR-funded researcher, today reported on the case of two HIV-positive patients who show no trace of virus following stem-cell transplants.

Dr. Henrich's patients had been on long-term antiretroviral therapy for HIV when they developed lymphoma. To treat the cancer, the patients underwent stem-cell transplants. Since the transplants, Dr. Henrich has been unable to find any evidence of HIV infection.

With support from a special amfAR grant made possible by the Bucks County Friends of amfAR and the Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation, Dr. Henrich conducted a clinical study in which his research team withdrew the patients’ antiretroviral therapy and performed several sophisticated tests looking for signs of viral rebound in blood and other tissues. One patient has been off treatment with no detectable virus for approximately 15 weeks and the second patient for seven weeks, but it is too soon to draw any definitive long-term conclusions.

The first person to be cured of HIV, Timothy Brown ("the Berlin patient"), also underwent a stem-cell transplant to treat his leukemia. These new cases differ significantly, however, in that the stem-cell donors lacked the genetic mutation (CCR5 delta32) that renders a person virtually resistant to HIV infection.

These findings provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy. Stem-cell transplantation cannot be used on a broad scale to treat people with HIV because of its costs and complexity, but these two cases could lead us to new ways of treating — and ultimately even eradicating — HIV.