Blood transplant 'cures man of HIV'
Published 15/12/2010 | 11:20
An unusual blood transplant appears to have cured an American man living in Berlin of infection with the Aids virus.
The man, who is in his 40s, had a blood stem cell transplant in 2007 to treat leukaemia. His donor not only was a good blood match but also had a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to HIV.
Now, three years later, the recipient shows no signs of leukaemia or HIV infection, according to a report in the journal Blood.
However, doctors say the approach is not practical for wide use.
"It's an interesting proof-of-concept that with pretty extraordinary measures a patient could be cured of HIV," said Michael Saag of the University of Alabama, but he added that it is far too risky to become standard therapy even if matched donors could be found,
He is past chairman of the HIV Medicine Association, an organisation of doctors who specialise in treating Aids.
Transplants of bone marrow - or, more commonly these days, blood stem cells - are carried out to treat cancer, and their risks in healthy people is unknown. It involves destroying the person's native immune system with powerful drugs and radiation, then replacing it with donor cells to grow a new immune system. Mortality from the procedure or its complications can be 5pc or more, Dr Saag said.
"We can't really apply this particular approach to healthy individuals because the risk is just too high," especially when drugs can keep HIV in check in most cases, Dr Saag said. Unless someone with HIV also had cancer, a transplant would not likely be considered, he added.
When the Berlin man's case first surfaced two years ago, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the procedure was too expensive and risky to be practical as a cure but that it might give more clues to using gene therapy or other methods to achieve the same result.