December 8, 2013
Traces Of HIV Found In Blood Of Previously Cured Patients
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
After being declared HIV-free following a dangerous bone marrow transplant procedure earlier this summer, a pair of Boston-area men are now apparently showing traces of the virus in their blood once again.
In July, the two patients tested negative for the immunodeficiency virus. Now, however, Brigham and Women’s Hospital associate professor of infectious diseases Dr. Timothy Henrich, speaking at an international AIDS research conference in Florida, announced that the virus had returned, according to CBS News.
While other researchers told the Boston Globe the results were disappointing, and Henrich himself said that HIV’s return shows how persistent the virus can be, there are positives to be gathered. The doctor said his team has discovered significant new data that will help lead to new treatments to combat the virus, and other experts told the Globe their work will significantly advance the battle against HIV.
Both patients had been suffering from the blood cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and after other cancer treatments had proven unsuccessful, the doctors transplanted healthy bone marrow into the patients. The hope was the transplant would help purge cancerous blood cells in favor of healthy cells, but the dangerous procedure involved a weakening of the immune system and carried with it a 15 to 20 percent chance of death.
Following the procedure, neither patient showed signs of HIV, though Henrich was quick to point out he didn’t want to declare they had been “cured.” Rather, the infectious diseases expert said, “If they remain virus-free in a year, or even two years, after [stopping] therapy, then we can make a statement that the chances of the virus returning are very low.”
According to CBS News, the men had stopped taking their antiretroviral medications for seven weeks and 15 weeks respectively prior to last week’s announcement. In August, HIV was discovered in the blood of one of the patients, and that individual started taking the drugs again. The other opted to stay off the medication and remained healthy until last month, when signs of the virus returned and he also resumed antiretroviral treatments.
“Through this research we have discovered the HIV reservoir is deeper and more persistent than previously known,” Henrich told AFP reporter Kerry Sheridan, adding both patients (who do not want to be identified) “are currently doing well” and that it is important to share the findings with other medical researchers because they suggest “that there may be an important long-lived HIV reservoir outside the blood compartment.”
“We felt it would be scientifically unfair to not let people know how things are going, especially for potential patients,” Henrich added in an interview with the Boston Globe. “We go back to the drawing board. It’s exciting science, even if it’s not the outcome we would have liked.”