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Bone Marrow Transplant Cures Cancer Patient of AIDS

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Sunday, November 09, 2008 10:14 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, AIDS, Cancer, Leukemia, Selzentry, Pfizer, Antiretroviral Agents, Sexually Transmitted Disease

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IMAGE SOURCE:© Wikimedia Commons / HIV Stages/ Ashvidia

It may be a fluke; or there may have been unknown factors at play. But the single case of a 42-year-old AIDS patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia gives new hope that gene-therapy strategies may one day hold a cure for AIDS.

While the patient is still recovering from leukemia therapy, he appears to have conquered his battle with AIDS. For more than 600 days, doctors have been unable to detect the virus in his blood despite his not taking any AIDS medications.

In most instances, when a patient stops taking his AIDS medications, the virus rapidly invades the body within weeks, sometimes days.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and may be contracted through exposure to bodily fluids, including but not limited to blood and semen.

The patient first underwent radiation treatment and then chemotherapy to kill off the many immune cells that harbor HIV. After transplantation, the patient’s immune system was repopulated by cells created using the donor’s blood marrow.

The donor mutation, found in approximately 1 percent of Europeans, creates immune system cells that lack a receptor molecule called CCR5. That receptor plays an important role in HIV’s ability to enter the cell.

Selzentry, an antiretroviral agent, by Pfizer works to block CCR5.

To sum it up in the simplest of terms, Dr. Gero Hütter, a hematologist, purposely replaced the patient’s bone marrow cells with those from a donor who has a naturally occurring genetic mutation that renders his cells immune to most strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Most important, perhaps, is the risks involved in bone marrow transplantation - usually given to cancer patients after other treatments have failed, kills up to 30 percent of patients.

Researchers plan to apply the lessons learned from this case to strategies using gene therapies (which carry their own risks) to try and activate the protective mutations in HIV patients.

David Baltimore, Nobel Prize winner for his research on tumor viruses has launched a new company which plans to use gene therapy to target HIV treatment. He refers to this case as a “positive sign” and virtual “proof of principle” for gene therapy methods.

The CDC estimated in 2008, that about 56,300 people were infected with HIV in 2006 (the most recent year data is available). Visit the HIV incidence page for more details.

Earlier this year the case was presented at the CROI 2008 conference in Boston.

Another recently released study by researchers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 250,000 Americans in non-high-risk groups is HIV positive, but don’t know it. #


1 Comment

Posted by Austin Lee
Friday, November 14, 2008 12:00 AM EST

Although this finding is exciting and has potential, it's way too early on the curve, and way too costly. I'm keeping my fingers crossed though that in time this evolves into something safe and cost-effective. Austin
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