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Working Toward a Cure for AIDS

Amid recent setbacks in the efforts to find a permanent cure for AIDS, there have been a few bright spots in the form of new patients in whom the virus seems to have been eradicated. Scientists presenting data at the International AIDS conference in Melbourne last week produced two case studies of HIV-positive patients who had received bone marrow transplants as part of cancer treatments, and neither individual currently has detectable levels of the virus. Since both patients are still undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART), they cannot be considered “cured” unless they are removed from ART and the virus does not rebound. With that said, the apparent disappearance of the virus is a very positive sign- in fact, the only known case of HIV being cured occurred after a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had a genetic resistance to the virus. This has been especially heartening to the HIV research community in the face of the recent revelation that the “Mississippi patient”, an infant thought to have been cured of the virus by high-dose ART immediately after birth, has had HIV resurface in her bloodstream.

Bone marrow transplants will never be a viable treatment option for AIDS, as they take an extreme physical toll and have a mortality rate of around 10%. Still, there is a mounting body of evidence indicating that stem cell transplants seem to be able to eradicate HIV reservoirs, and transference of genetic resistance has been proven possible in at least one case. If a less dangerous, less invasive means can be found to wipe out bone marrow HIV reservoirs, we might find ourselves on the path to a cure.

Andrew Wilson, Summer Research Intern

Source: http://www.nature.com/news/cancer-treatment-clears-two-australian-patients-of-hiv-1.15587

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