German doctors declare “cure” in HIV patient

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – German researchers who used  a bone marrow transplant to treat a cancer patient with the  AIDS virus, have declared him cured of the virus — a stunning  claim in a field where the word “cure” is barely whispered.

The patient, who had both HIV infection and leukemia,  received the bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor who  had a genetic mutation known to give patients a natural  immunity to the virus.

Nearly four years after the transplant, the patient is free  of the virus and it does not appear to be hiding anywhere in  his body, Thomas Schneider of Berlin Charite hospital and  colleagues said.

“Our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been  achieved in this patient,” they wrote in the journal Blood.

AIDS researchers have rejected the approach on any kind of  scale for patients with HIV. A bone marrow transplant is a  last-ditch treatment for cancers such as leukemia.
It requires destruction of a patient’s own bone marrow —  itself a harrowing process — and then a transplant from a  donor who has a near-exact blood and immune system type. Months  of recovery are needed while the transplant grows and  reconstitutes the patient’s immune system.
“It’s not practical and it can kill people,” said Dr.  Robert Gallo of the Institute of Human Virology at the  University of Maryland, who helped discover the human  immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.

“It is possibly a cure, that’s for sure, you won’t know for  absolute sure until the person dies and undergoes extreme PCR  (genetic) analysis of post-mortem tissue.”

The mutation affects a receptor, a cellular doorway, called  CCR5, that the AIDS virus uses to get into the cells it  infects.

Since the 1990s scientists have known that some people,  mostly of Northern European descent, have the mutation and are  rarely infected with HIV.

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