5 Things We Learned from the International AIDS Conference
BY Trudy Ring
October 29 2012 3:30 AM ET
Is This the Final Farewell to HIV?
A report about two Boston men who had achieved undetectable viral loads after receiving bone marrow transplants received much fanfare at the conference. The men, who have both been HIV-positive for several years, received the transplants as a treatment for cancer, but the procedures also had the effect of making HIV undetectable in their blood. Their cases differed from that of the so-called Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown (pictured above), who also achieved viral suppression following a bone marrow transplant. His was with stem cells that had a genetic mutation with resistance to HIV; the other men’s transplants involved cells without the mutation. Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital think the Boston men’s HIV became undetectable because antiretroviral drugs, which they continued taking during the transplant process, helped keep the cells that repopulated their immune systems from becoming reinfected with the virus.
Both men remain on antiretroviral treatment, and doctors say it is too early to describe them as “cured” of HIV. Researchers plan additional studies, both to see if the men might have HIV in their tissues, if not in their blood, and to determine the effects of bone marrow transplants in other people with the virus. Brown, on the other hand, has been off anti-HIV drugs for several years and is what scientists consider “functionally cured.” At the conference, he announced he has started a foundation that will conduct research into a cure.