HIV Cured with Stem Cell Therapy

The case with the so-called Berlin patient, an HIV positive man with leukemia who has been cured of HIV infection after receiving a bone marrow transplant was first revealed at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection in Boston in 2008. More extensive report on the case was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in early 2009, while the newly published results of follow-up tests have shown that the Berlin patient has been cured of HIV infection with stem cell therapy.

The Berlin patient who has later revealed his identity has received stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation which reduces the risk of HIV and is estimated to be present in about 1% of northern and western Europeans. Before the stem cell therapy, the Berlin patient went through chemotherapy and radiation therapy in oder to destroy the immune system cells. He was also given immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection of transplanted stem cells. Antiretroviral therapy which is used for treatment of HIV has been halted after the patient has received the bone marrow transplant.

The case has attracted a lot of attention worldwide and many scientists started to investigate the use of stem cell therapy for treatment of HIV in other patients. So far, they have found two possible solutions – a transplant from a donor who is immune to HIV or engineering of HIV-resistant stem cells. The first option would require great efforts to find individuals with rare genetic mutation that makes them immune to HIV, while the development of a technique for engineering HIV-resistant stem cells may take years. In addition, both treatments will most likely be very expensive if they prove to be effective and will probably be reserved for patients without other treatment options at least in the initial period.