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Timothy Henrich of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston announced that HIV has returned in two patients researchers hoped were permanently cleared of the virus. The two men had received bone marrow transplants to treat blood cancer, which also seemed to wipe HIV from their systems.
Two men whom Boston researchers reported in July had been cleared of HIV after receiving bone marrow transplants have had the virus return, the lead researcher announced Thursday.
The patients, both of whom had been living with HIV for years, had each received bone marrow transplants several years ago to treat the blood cancer lymphoma. The treatment appeared to have made HIV retreat to undetectable levels in their blood.
At the time of the announcement in July, one man had been off antiretroviral drugs for 15 weeks and the other for seven weeks.
But the virus returned in one patient in August and the other patient in November, said Dr. Timothy Heinrich, infectious diseases associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston Globe first reported. Both have since resumed taking HIV medication.
Speaking at an international AIDS research conference in Florida, Heinrich said he was announcing the preliminary developments because other scientists around the world are basing their research off his team’s findings.
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Only one patient worldwide is currently thought to be in permanent remission from HIV.
“We felt it would be scientifically unfair to not let people know how things are going, especially for potential patients,” Henrich said, according to the Boston Globe.
Bone marrow transplants are risky and not considered a viable approach to treating HIV in all patients, Heinrich told the Globe in an interview. But studying its effects in select cases has furthered understanding of the way HIV works in the body.
The only patient believed to have been cured of HIV, Timothy Ray Brown, received a bone marrow transplant in 2007, along with heavy doses of chemotherapy and radiation, to treat leukemia. The 47-year-old Brown, dubbed “the Berlin patient,” was treated in Germany with marrow from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that seems to make people resistant to HIV. The Boston patients’ transplant did not include the mutation, known as CCR5-delta32.
In findings reported this year, scientists announced cautious optimism that a 3-year-old girl from Mississippi who was infected with AIDS in the womb has been put into permanent remission.
In spite of the recent disappointment, the Boston researchers continue to study the two patients and intend to widen the scope of the study to include other HIV patients with bone marrow transplants, Heinrich said.
“It’s exciting science, even if it’s not the outcome we would have liked,” he told the Globe.