Research Presented At IAS 2013 Gives Scientists Hope For ‘Functional Cure’

“Two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have stopped antiretroviral therapy and still show no detectable sign of the HIV virus, researchers said Wednesday” at the 7th International AIDS Society Conference on Pathogenesis, Treatment, and Prevention (IAS 2013) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Associated Press reports (Ng, 7/3). “One patient is HIV-free nearly three years later, and the other more than four years later,” NBC News notes (Fox, 7/3). “The patients have been off antiretroviral therapy for just 15 and eight weeks respectively, which researchers said means it’s far too soon to say they’ve been cured of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “But even with that caveat, the patients are among a small group of cases helping to fuel optimism among many AIDS researchers and activists that a cure for the lethal disease, once considered out of reach, is now achievable,” the newspaper writes (Winslow, 7/3). “Data on the same two patients was presented a year ago at [the IAS 2012] conference in Washington, D.C., by the same researchers, Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes” of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Forbes notes, adding, “But at the time the patients had not stopped taking their AIDS medicines” (Herper, 7/3). “‘While stem-cell transplantation is not a viable option for people with HIV on a broad scale because of its costs and complexity, these new cases could lead us to new approaches to treating, and ultimately even eradicating, HIV,’ Kevin Robert Frost, the chief executive officer of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, which funded the study, said in a statement,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports (Bennett, 7/3).

“The patients’ success echoes that of Timothy Ray Brown, the famous ‘Berlin patient,’ who has shown no signs of resurgent virus in the five years since he got a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a rare mutation conferring resistance to HIV,” the New York Times reports (McNeil, 7/3). However, Henrich and Kuritzkes “caution that it is still too early to know whether or not the Boston patients have been cured,” Nature notes (Hayden, 7/3). “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,” Henrich said, according to The Guardian (Boseley, 7/3). “In two other studies presented at [IAS 2013], French researchers said patients who began treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis had the best chance of shrinking the viral reservoir and reviving their immune system,” Agence France-Presse reports, noting other researchers gave an update on the case of the “Mississippi baby,” “an HIV-positive infant in Mississippi who was put on a course of antiretroviral drugs within a few days of birth [and who] had remained free of the virus 15 months after treatment was stopped.” The research “strengthens the motivation for pursuing the once-unthinkable goal of eradicating HIV or repressing it without daily drugs — a condition referred to as a ‘functional cure’ or ‘functional remission,'” AFP writes (7/3).

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