HIV Cure Hopes Reignited After Bone Marrow Transplants Leave Two Men Virus Free [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 3, 2013 12:45 PM EDT

HIV cure
HIV cure in reach? That’s the hope of scientists in the U.S. who say two men are HIV free following bone marrow transplants. Pictured, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets players join a human ribbon made up of young people holding red balloons in right field during a ceremony in 1999 marking the sixth annual "Until There's A Cure Day" at 3Com Park. (Photo: Reuters)

HIV cure hopes were again sparked following another breakthrough development in the fight against the virus. Earlier today, researchers from the U.S. announced at the International AIDS Society Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that two men remain free of the HIV virus following bone marrow transplants they received during cancer treatment. They stopped taking their antiretroviral medication earlier this year, and the virus has yet to reappear. Could this finding mark an important milestone in the race for an HIV cure?

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Both men, who have not been identified, had lived with HIV for about 30 years and were taking antiretroviral drugs for much of that time. CNN reports that both of them underwent chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplants to treat lymphoma cancer. They continued to take their antiretroviral drugs during that time, but six to nine months after the transplant, their bodies seem clear of the HIV virus.

"By continuing antiretroviral therapy during the time of transplant we could protect these otherwise susceptible cells from becoming HIV infected," Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital in the U.S. told Al Jazeera. "These cells then wiped out the immune system of the patients replacing the immune system with these healthy donor cells that were uninfected, thereby eliminating HIV."

Curious to see if the bone marrow transplant could have led to an HIV cure, doctors took the patients off of their antiretroviral drugs. Months later, there is still no sign of the virus.

"We are now recording 15 weeks after therapy and eight weeks after therapy for our two patients, and to date we are unable to detect HIV rebounding in the bloodstream after we stopped the therapy," Dr. Timothy Henrich, one of the lead researchers who worked with the two HIV infected men, told the BBC.

But researchers caution not to jump to any conclusions regarding an HIV cure. Firstly, it can take months -- even years -- for the virus to reappear in people with HIV who discontinue antiretroviral therapy, so there's still a chance the two men could have HIV in their systems down the road. Also, bone marrow transplants are extremely costly and dangerous, so their use in potentially curing HIV would be very limited.

In the words of Dr. Henrich: "It's much too early at this point to use the C-word."

HIV cure -- the words invoke feelings of hope for tens of millions of people around the globe. HIV, and its sinister counterpart AIDS, affect people of all races, gender, religion and sexual orientation. While researchers have made tremendous advances towards curing HIV, there's still work to be done.

An HIV cure has evaded scientists for so long because of how elusive the virus is. The HIV virus takes shelter inside human DNA, where it forms "reservoirs" in the body. While anti-retroviral drugs keep the virus at bay within the bloodstream, when someone stops taking the drug, the virus returns.

Al Jazeera's Tarek Bazley reports on the potential HIV cure:

Read more from iScience Times:

HIV Cure 'Within Months': Human Trials Suggest Treatment Ready By 2013

Wife Killed Over HIV Fear: Why Did Eugene Maraventano Murder His Wife And Son?

Hundreds of Patients of Doctor Accused of Unsanitary Practices Get Tested for Hepatitis, HIV

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