Just a few days ago, the Cambridge team led by Ravindra Gupta announced that they had been able to eliminate HIV virus in a patient that had received a bone marrow transplant from a donor that carried two mutated copies of CCR5 -a mutation that occurs in around 1% of european descent- that confers HIV immunity to the host. The treated patient stopped taking antiretroviral drugs in the past 18 months after the transplant and, quite importantly, represents the second case of succesful HIV-treating transplant in recent years, the first having been reported in 2009. Interestingly, the idea behind a stem cell-based treatment came, for both patients, from the necessity of a bone marrow transplant as a treatment for a blood cancer that did not respond to chemotherapy; however, rather than chosing any compatible donor, Dr. Gupta opted for a patient with a double mutation for CCR5.
Even though all results point to a very promising perspective, at least in terms of the patient quality of life (after all, treatment of the first patient is still demonstrating its efficacy ten years later), there is still no way to formally talk about a cure -says Dr Gupta- until the absence of virus in the patient's blood will be demonstrated for longer time. Furthermore, this last transplant was achieved with a less aggressive cancer-treating regimen in respect with the one of 2009, suggesting that powerful chemotherapy might not be necessary for its efficacy. On the other hand, some have pointed out that this kind of treatment might not be suitable for people who don't have blood cancer, as bone marrow transplant is a rather serious procedure that would not be advisable for all HIV patients, especially for those with a good clinical phenotype.