Doctors have declared a man cured of HIV five years after he received a bone marrow transplant and radiation therapy – but keep wearing those condoms as in the short term that cure will only work for a very small number of people.
On December 2 last year researchers published a paper in the Journal of the American Society of Hematology arguing that it is “reasonable to conclude that cure of HIV infection has been achieved in this patient”.
Six months later they now have the confidence to state that a cure has been affected.
Timothy Ray Brown, known as the “Berlin patient” was HIV positive and being treated for leukaemia in Germany in 2007 when his doctor, Gero Hutter, decided to follow up on a hunch.
Hutter knew that less than 1 percent of Europeans carry a mutation that, when inherited from both parents, gives them a heightened immunity to HIV.
The mutation means that a molecule that HIV uses to enter a cell does not appear on the surfaces of their cell walls.
Hutter began a search for a donor with the mutation who was compatible with Brown.
When one was found Brown was given a powerful course of drugs and radiation therapy that killed his bone marrow and most of his immune cells- wiping out active HIV infected cells in his body.
They then transplanted the donor bone marrow which began to produce immune cells with the mutation which spread throughout his body.
Doctors initially asked Brown to stop taking HIV medications so as to not affect the ability of the new marrow to survive and he has never needed to resume them.
The procedures Brown underwent required long periods of extreme discomfort, caused him neurological damage and carried a high risk of complication including death, and that coupled with the rarity of compatible donors with the mutation mean this approach will not be an option for many patients.
The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is now funding research in the San Francisco Bay area which will try to replicate the result in another patient.