Two Boston lymphoma patients who were HIV-positive no longer have detectable traces of the sexually transmitted disease in their blood cells after they received bone marrow transplants to treat their cancer.
The announcement was made Wednesday at the International AIDS Society Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The results are even more surprising considering both men stopped receiving antiretroviral therapy in recent weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported.
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Dr. Timothy Henrich and Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston refused to declare the men were cured for sure, but said the results were exciting. The doctors added that such results will better guide HIV research, though bone marrow transplants are highly unlikely to become a standard therapy for people with HIV.
The men were diagnosed HIV-positive many years before developing lymphoma.
Bone marrow transplants give lymphoma patients a healthier immune system and can cure the blood cancer.
The bone marrow transplants they received had normal cells that did not have the mutation that protects against HIV, the Los Angeles Times reported.
One man received his transplant four and a half years ago, while the other got his almost three years ago.
A third man also received a transplant, but died of lymphoma.
Henrich and Kuritzkes first announced the two surviving patients did not have the virus at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C.; at the time, though, both patients were still on antiretroviral drugs to keep the virus at bay.
Henrich warned that despite the hopeful results, the virus could still be hidden in other parts of the body like brain tissue.
"I don’t know if I will ever be able to say patients are cured," he said.
However if the patients remain HIV-free for a year or two, "the chances of the virus coming back will be very small," Henrich told The Los Angeles Times.
As successful as this bone marrow transplant appears to be at this point, Henrich added that when cost and risk is factored in, the procedure does not make sense to treat HIV-positive patients who do not have cancer.
Between 15 and 20 percent of patients who undergo bone marrow transplant died from the procedure, according to Henrich.
"Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a practical strategy," he added.
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