An HIV+ man living in Germany underwent a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia (not his HIV status) and is now testing negative for the virus that causes AIDS.
Published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report states that the transplant was done two years ago and the patient remains HIV- and is not taking any medication for HIV. The man is a 42 year old American who lives in Germany – the transplant was carried out in Berlin.
The team of doctors deliberately used a stem cell donor who had a naturally occurring resistance in his genes that is resistant to HIV. This mutation is found in up to three percent of white Europeans (or those of European descent). People who have a parent with this mutation are less likely to become infected with HIV and some of those with two parents with the mutation have avoided infection completely. The donor in this case had both parents with the genetic mutation.
A stem cell transplant is when a person’s own stem cells are removed and replaced by another, healthy donor’s cells. Essentially, the patient receives a brand new immune system. The danger is that a person is left very vulnerable to infection that he or she may be too weak to fight. In fact, these stem cell transplants are very risky and there are no guarantees with the outcome. Up to one third of patients undergoing this surgery actually die of complications. In addition, the HIV virus is tricky. It mutates and could be hiding out somewhere in this man’s system. Only time will tell if he is truly HIV- although since it has been two years since the surgery, these results do seem very promising.
Ironically, the man’s leukemia returned and he underwent a further stem cell transplant from the original donor.
Doctors do not foresee this very risky surgery becoming a standard procedure, but hope that the stem cells can be formulated into an injectable solution. It will be several years before an alternative to stem cell transplantation is devised.
For more information on HIV/AIDS, you can click here for Empowher's encyclopedia link to AIDS information: http://www.empowher.com/media/reference/acquired-immunodeficiency-syndrome-and-human-immunodeficiency-virus
Do you think this discovery could ultimately lead to a cure for AIDS? Would you risk a stem cell transplant if you had HIV or AIDS?