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German doctors cure man of HIV

The Local · 16 Dec 2010, 08:00

Published: 16 Dec 2010 08:00 GMT+01:00

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Though the highly risky technique used on the man known as the "Berlin Patient" would not work for most of the 33 million people with HIV worldwide, scientists say the research shows important progress toward a universal cure.

"Our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient," said the study released Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Blood, a publication of the American Society of Hematology.

The process began in 2006 when a US man in his 40s, who had been HIV positive for more than a decade, sought treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia, a lethal blood cancer.

After a first round of chemotherapy failed, his German doctor, Gero Hütter, thought he would see if he could perform a bone marrow transplant using a donor with a rare genetic mutation that is naturally resistant to HIV.

About one in 100 Caucasian people, or one percent of the population, have the mutation, known as Delta 32, inherited from both parents which prevents the protein CCR5 from appearing on the cell surface.

Since HIV enters the cell through CCR5 molecules, when they are absent HIV cannot penetrate.

The process was not easy, but after rejecting dozens of potential donors Hütter finally found a match and performed the bone marrow transplant using stem cells from the HIV-resistant donor in February 2007.

Hütter's first study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, showed no sign that HIV had re-emerged even though the patient had ceased anti-retroviral therapy to suppress HIV.

The latest findings show that the patient, 44-year-old Timothy Ray Brown, continues to show no trace of either the AIDS-causing virus or leukaemia.

But because Brown's ordeal left him temporarily unable to walk or talk and statistics showing around 30 percent of patients do not survive bone marrow transplants, AIDS experts sounded a note of caution.

"I think we need a lot more research to try to replicate this without putting a patient's life in danger," said Karen Tashima, director of the HIV Clinical Trials Program at The Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island.

"Since we have good anti-retroviral therapy that can control the virus, it would be unethical to give somebody such an extreme treatment."

Lead study author Kristina Allers acknowledged that the process would not work for most people.

"Nevertheless, as the study tells us that (an) HIV cure is in principle possible, it gives new hope for scientists in HIV cure research," Allers said. “So the next challenge is to translate our findings into a strategy that can be applied without being life-threatening."

Indeed, US researchers are already working on ways to replicate the same process in the cells without going the same risky route.

"I am very excited about it," said David Baltimore, a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1975.

Baltimore is the founder of a biotech company that is working on developing his own stem-cell HIV/AIDS therapy that works functionally the same as the German team's, and is in the process of organizing clinical trials, he said.

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"What we are trying to do is treat a patient's own cells so there is no immunological problem," he said. "The fact that the one patient who was treated then was effectively cured is I think a very strong argument that you want to continue this kind of approach to the HIV problem."

Jay Levy, an AIDS and cancer researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, described the latest research as evidence of a "functional cure."

"I mean, one person is not sufficient. It is an encouraging first step but you really need to show it again," he said. "I always look on this as a direction for future approaches, recognize what the problems are and then see if we can do better, and I have faith in my scientific colleagues to come up with something better."

Levy and his team are also looking at ways to manipulate a patient's own stem cells so that they do not express the receptors that allow HIV infection, much like the CCR5 mutation.

"Three years is not enough... We will know that in 10 years," said Levy regarding the study's assertion that a cure has been found. "It is too early to say you've cured, but my Lord, they have done a nice job."


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:20 December 16, 2010 by yhsanjay
Great job done GERMANY! A first ever from GERMANY for the dreaded disease AIDS that claimed thousands of lives. I still cannot come to terms with Freddie Mercury's death due to AIDS. He was among my favourite entertainers.The UK based pop group QUEEN has almost disappeared with Freddie's passing away!

I only hope more and more people afflicted by AIDS and the dreaded HIV virus are able to use this treatment for getting cured.
04:34 December 19, 2010 by spiegelsteven
It isn't a cure that is going to be used by the masses with the horable disease. But it is definitely a start and the German doctors should be proud of there find. hopefully they can build on that and be able to find a cure for the masses. I had Hepatitis c and was put on interferon and riboflavin cocktail that luckily after 6 months of being sick as a dog i finally was undetectable for the hep C . I found out i had it when i was 28 yrs old and carried around the thought of not being around for a normal life span for 18 years. I went to my doctors a year ago and she told me to get my affairs together because if i didn't get on some kind of treatment i would be dead in a few more years. I could not believe what i had heard and it was one of the worst days of my life.I went down to the Va hospital and signed up for a program that would give me drugs to get rid of it and i had a 80 percent chance of getting rid of it but is was going to be the worst 6 months of my life. I did everything i was told to do and i was so sick i could not walk up a set of steps without feeling like i was dying.It also effected my brain to where i was so depressed that if someone looked at me wrong i would start crying. But 6 months later i was done and got the good news that i was negative for the hep c. Now i can live my life happy again and now everything good in my life is just icing on the cake.So if anyone who is reading this has hep c please get the treatment it is horrible to be on but when you are done you will have your life back.
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