Two HIV-Positive Men Got "Free" from HIV After Side-Effects of Bone Marrow Transplant to Treat Blood Cancer

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By Ryan Inoyori | July 22, 2013 2:15 PM EST

Two separate men "cured" from HIV after a surprising side-effect from cancer treatments and encouraged researchers and medical experts to look into possible potential method as HIV/AIDS treatment.

Harvard researchers Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes noted a recently surprising side-effect to cancer treatments performed on two separate patients who were also HIV-positive. The two men underwent bone marrow transplants to treat cancers of the blood and later discovered to have no trace of HIV left in their system.

Bone Marrow Transplant as HIV Cure?

Due to the surprising result of their treatment, the two patients stopped their anti-HIV drug therapy and remains free even without their treatments to HIV after seven weeks for one patient and fifteen weeks for the other.

Although there is no virus resurfacing at this point, medical researchers are still hesitant to pronounce them "cured" because of possible risk factor of virus re-emergence even after several months of initial disappearance. However, both patients are considered "doing very well."

Scientists are interested regarding the result among these two men which may determine absolute cure to HIV even if not effective to free all victims of the virus. One angle they see with bone marrow relation on HIV cure is the case of a "Berlin patient" Timothy Ray-Brown.

Ray-Brown suffered from an aggressive type of leukaemia and underwent both chemotherapy and whole body radiotherapy to wipe out all of the cells in his bone marrow before receiving a transplant with a risk of around forty per cent mortality rate.

Mr. Brown's new marrow has a unique trait from a donor who was a close genetic match and had a rare mutation that is virtually resistant to HIV infection. This specific mutation is a lacking of a surface receptor in the white blood cells needed by the HIV to enter and destroy the cell.

Chances of Remission

The rate of HIV recurrence depends on the donor, subject, genetic code and HIV type. Unlike with Brown's case, some patients who underwent bone marrow transplant received new ones without a unique genetic mutation.

HIV virus under the play "graft-versus-host-disease" can be targets of the new cells attacking old ones. HIV-infected old cells are susceptible against the new cells attacking the recipient from the new bone marrow and at that point, the patient may be subjected to anti-HIV drugs to prevent exposing the new cells to the virus.

Cost Comparison with Anti-HIV Drugs

According to the National Institutes of Health, a patient with HIV has an expectancy rate of 24.2 years with post-infection and must live up to the cost of $618,900 in terms of treatment. In 50 years, a patient could be charged of up to $3 million just to fill up treatment for HIV which is far more frustrating to live compared to simply die.

But, if a patient uses a bone marrow transplant and suffer discomforting side-effects, a single procedure can cost as much as $200,000 which is much cheaper than spending $3 million in total to maintain anti-HIV treatment.

Effectiveness of bone marrow transplant is not 100 per cent guarantee due to mortality rate with "graft-versus-host disease" and possible complications dangerous to the host. Experts are not suggesting bone marrow as the initial step to fight HIV but instead be vigilant to take anti-HIV medications as soon as possible.

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