The scientific community has reportedly made the biggest breakthrough yet for treating the HIV virus. Following a bone marrow transplant at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston, two men have been declared “cured” of HIV; the virus is no longer traceable in either of their bloodstreams, meaning they no longer need to take medication.
According to Timothy Henrich, who spoke at the International AIDS society conference, one of the men was infected in the early years of HIV’s epidemic, while the other contracted the virus from his mother as a baby. Two very different cases, but one very important outcome. Both have been off HIV suppression drugs for a number of months, and so far there have been no signs of the virus returning.
However, the HIV virus has the ability to lay dormant at low levels and later become active, so both are regularly being monitored. The same bone marrow transplant method was used back in 2010, but the donor apparently had a genetic resistance to HIV; the latest results used “normal donors,” which is why the news is so promising.
“Long-term follow up of at least one year will be required to understand the full impact of a bone marrow transplant on HIV persistence,” Heinrich said.
HIV treatment this year has seen a number of treatment breakthroughs, including a “functionally cured” child, while 14 other adults were successfully taken off HIV drugs. Bone marrow transplants are risky enough—there’s a 15-20 percent mortality rate—but the breakthrough shows progress is being made. If anything, it’ll help researchers better understand the virus, and hopefully come up with more successful treatment options going forward.