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HIV and bone marrow transplants: More steps toward a cure

July 8, 2013

by Justin Matlick, Fred Hutch science writer

Last week, Boston researchers reported that bone marrow transplants wiped out the HIV virus in two patients – the latest example of how the lifesaving procedure could revolutionize HIV/AIDS treatment.

The patients had HIV and Hodgkin lymphoma, and underwent bone marrow transplants to eliminate the cancer. The transplants helped the patients’ immune systems also eradicate HIV, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Both patients recently stopped taking antiretroviral medications and show no signs of an HIV comeback.

This builds on the remarkable success of Timothy Ray Brown – also known as the “Berlin Patient” – who is the first person cured of HIV. Brown used antiretroviral drugs to control the virus, then received stem cell transplants to combat acute myeloid leukemia. The cells came from a donor who carried a rare gene mutation that made them naturally immune to HIV. Fred Hutch researchers are working with Brown and received a $20 million grant to lead defeatHIV, a project that uses this breakthrough as a possible blueprint for new HIV cures.

The Boston patients stand out because they received “ordinary” bone marrow transplants – their donors didn’t have the anti-HIV mutation. This signals another potential breakthrough, another milestone for bone marrow transplantation and another opportunity to marvel at the immune system’s amazing power to defeat deadly disease.

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