Adult Stem Cell Transplant Helps Cure HIV?

| by FRC

A German HIV and leukemia patient, who recovered from leukemia plus HIV after adult stem cell therapy, made headlines some two years ago. The then-anonymous patient–diagnosed with HIV in 1995–had contracted life-threatening leukemia.

In 2006, Berlin doctors applied a standard therapy for leukemia–transplantation of donated bone marrow adult stem cells that reconstitute the patient’s blood and immune system (Joseph E. Murray and E. Donnall Thomas received the 1990 Nobel Prize for their discoveries that led to such transplants.) But the German doctors did even more: Knowing that some people are genetically resistant to HIV, they looked for a matched bone marrow donor with this special feature–cells that lack . And they found the desired donor. The patient went into remission both from leukemia and from the HIV infection. The case made international headlines in 2008.

Now, the anonymity of the “Berlin patient” has been lifted by the German weekly magazine “Stern” (“The Star”). He is an American citizen who lives in Berlin, 44-year-old Timothy Ray Brown. He has survived leukemia and he has defeated HIV, through a selective adult stem cell transplant. The adult stem cell donor was carefully selected by the doctors–the donor cells lacked a molecule called CCR5; the cell-surface receptor that acts as an attachment factor for the HIV virus, making the donor cells resistant to HIV infection.

The doctors are now claiming that there is evidence in this patient for a “cure” for HIV infection using the selective adult stem cell transplant. The published evidence seems sound, but caution should be exercised. This is not a gentle procedure. Moreover, it relies on finding a bone marrow adult stem cell donor with the particular mutation, so that their donated cells lack the CCR5 receptor.

The new report (“Evidence for the cure of HIV infection by CCR5{Delta}32/{Delta}32 stem cell transplantation”) is published online in the journal Blood.