A remarkable operation in Berlin, a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from a donor with natural genetic resistance to the AIDS virus, has left an HIV patient free of infection for nearly two years. This patient, an American living in Germany, was infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and was also deteriorating from leukemia.
Standard operating practice for this person's type of leukemia is a bone marrow transplant. In this case, German doctors searched all over the country for a donor who could not only help this patient with the leukemia, but who would have a special type of bone marrow that exhibits a genetic mutation that has been shown to help the body resist the move to AIDS.
The Germans found this donor with the mutation and used that person's bone marrow to treat their patient, providing a two-fold medical miracle. Not only did the leukemia disappear, but do did the HIV.
"As of today, more than 20 months after the successful transplant, no HIV can be detected in the patient," the clinic said in a statement to the press. The researchers stressed that this would never become a standard treatment for HIV. Bone marrow stem cell transplants are dangerous and require the patient to first have his or her own bone marrow completely destroyed.
Patients risk death from even the most minor infections because they have no immune system until the stem cells can grow and replace their own. But, HIV has no cure and is always fatal, so this is a remarkable development nonetheless. The medical team said they have been unable to find any trace of the virus in their 42-year-old patient, who remains unnamed, but that does not mean it is not there.
"The virus is tricky. It can always return," Hutter said.