Two men unlucky enough to get both HIV and cancer have been seemingly cleared of the virus, raising hope that science may yet find a way to cure for the infection that causes AIDS, 30 years into the epidemic.
The researchers are cautious in declaring the two men cured, but more than two years after receiving bone marrow transplants, HIV can’t be detected anywhere in their bodies. These two new cases are reminiscent of the so-called “Berlin patient,” the only person known to have been cured of infection from the human immunodeficiency virus.
These two cases, presented as a “late-breaker” finding on Thursday at the 19th annual International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., are among the reasons that scientists have been speaking so openly at the event about their hopes of finding a cure.
“Everyone knows about this ‘Berlin patient’. We wanted to see if a simpler treatment would do the same thing”, said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who oversaw the study. The widely publicized patient, Timothy Brown, was treated for leukemia with a bone marrow transplant that happened to come from a donor with a genetic mutation that makes immune cells resist HIV infection. The transplant replaced his own infected cells with healthy, AIDS-resistant cells. He is HIV-free five years later.
AIDS patients are susceptible to cancers, but they usually stop taking HIV drugs before receiving cancer treatment. “That allows the virus to come back and it infects their donor cells,” Kuritzkes said.
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