written by Andrew Mullins

The news of two men supposedly being cured from HIV (only the 3rd and 4th people ever to be cured) is cause for celebration for those promoting ethical adult stem cells, and provides motivation to increase adult stem cell research. As reported at the International AIDS Society meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the two men, now known as the “Boston patients”, received bone marrow adult stem cell transplants as part of their treatment for lymphoma.

Their doctors believe that the adult stem cell therapy (via graft-versus-host reaction) combined with continued anti-retroviral drugs during the transplant period eliminated virus-containing cells in the men’s bodies. Their adult stem cell transplants were 3 and 5 years ago, but now the men have been off of their anti-retroviral drug therapy for several weeks, and continue to show no signs of viral DNA or RNA in their blood. It will probably be two years before scientists feel more secure in labeling the men “cured”.

Their treatment was different from the “Berlin patient”, Timothy Brown, who appears to have been cured of HIV after an adult stem cell transplant in 2007. Brown, the first person apparently cured of HIV, received an adult stem cell transplant specifically from a donor whose cells carried the HIV-resistant CCR5-Δ32 gene. Recently news broke of a baby who was born with HIV but who is now apparently HIV-free, due to anti-retroviral drug treatment. Prevention is of course better, and in fact there was a recent celebration of the one-millionth baby born without HIV, as a result of the PEPFAR program started under President Bush.

The technique used for the two new patients apparently cured of HIV opens up a larger potential donor pool for adult stem cell transplants, though this is still a risky treatment procedure that will need refinement, and this is not a suitable treatment option for every HIV patient. Still, this is another encouraging example of the usefulness of ethical adult stem cells.