If the results hold up, it will be the second time in history that doctors have reportedly cured H.I.V. — though the procedure remains so prohibitively expensive, complex, and dangerous that it might not lead to a reliable treatment for the scourge.
In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how they performed a bone marrow transplant into an unidentified patient using stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that caused a resistance to H.I.V.
So 18 months after the patient stopped taking antiretroviral medication, doctors say there’s been no sign of a return of the infection. HIV cured!
Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.
Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. But the transplants were intended to treat cancer in the patients, not H.I.V.
Bone-marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a treatment option in the near future, but powerful drugs are now available to control H.I.V. infection, while the bone-marrow transplants are risky, with harsh side effects that can last for years. Rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V. might well succeed as a practical treatment, Dr. Annemarie Wensing said.
Dr. Wensing is co-leader of IciStem, a consortium of European scientists studying stem cell transplants to treat H.I.V. infection.
A human white blood cell which is blue is under attack by H.I.V. in yellow.
Will this change anything for people living with H.I.V.?
Not yet! This apparent success does not mean that an easy cure is around the corner, and certainly not that infected patients should stop taking their pills.
Both cases believed to have been cured so far had H.I.V. and cancer. Both received bone-marrow transplants to treat the cancer, not the H.I.V. directly. In each case, the bone-marrow donors carried a key genetic mutation, called delta 32, that hampers H.I.V.’s entry into certain blood cells.
And you should know that until now, most other attempts to repeat the first cure had failed.
How soon might a new treatment be available?
Five to 10 years at the earliest. And that covers only types of H.I.V. that rely on CCR5 to infect cells. Another form of H.I.V., called X4, relies on a different protein to enter cells; none of these theoretical treatments would guard against infection with that form of the virus.
“Nobody should really be anticipating a cure or a remission is around the corner,” Dr. McCune said.
All hopes not lost, do your best to preserve yourself!