Docs Claim Transplant Cured Man of HIV, But Experts Urge Caution

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In a rare case, a man living in Germany who had both leukemia and AIDS no longer has any detectable HIV cells in his blood following a stem cell transplant for his leukemia three years ago. But experts were quick to caution that the case does not have practical implications for the treatment of AIDS worldwide. As it turns out, the donor for that transplant carried a rare mutation in a gene that increases immunity against the most common form of HIV.

First reported in 2009, this follow-up study, published online in the journal Blood, confirms that the recipient patient is still free of both leukemia and HIV three years after the transplant. But one expert issued strong words of caution in interpreting the finding. "Our phones have been ringing off the hook," said Dr. Margaret Fischl, director of the AIDS clinical research unit at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "We are having patients calling us and asking if they can stop their antiretroviral therapy and the answer is uncategorically no."

The theory is that if you could wipe out every infected cell you could cure HIV, Fischl said, but this is a unique case. The patient had intense chemotherapy and radiation, then relapsed and was given a second transplant from the same donor. The donor was unique in that he had a gene that could fight the most common form of HIV. This mutation is seen in about one in every million people, Fischl explained.

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