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New hope for HIV cure as two men are ‘cured' of the virus

by , 04 July 2013

There may be a glimmer of hope for those infected with HIV. In the latest developments, doctors are reporting that two previously HIV-positive men who received stem cell transplants to treat their cancers no longer have any traces of the virus even after stopping treatment, reports CBS News. Here's what's going on….

The patients are said to have been ‘cured’ of HIV after receiving stem-cell transplants after they had been diagnosed with the blood cancer lymphoma, CBS News reports. The revelation was announced at the International AIDS Society conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Timothy Henrich, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the media that the men are no longer taking AIDS drugs. The first patient has been off treatments for 15 weeks and the other has been off for seven weeks, Reuters reported.

According to CBS News, these two men aren't the first to be ‘cured’ of HIV with this treatment. Timothy Ray Brown, a man who previously had HIV and leukemia, received a stem cell transplant from a person with a genetic mutation called delta 32 that made them HIV-resistant. Researchers in California found traces of HIV in his tissue in July 2012, but Brown claims that the any virus that remains is dead and can’t replicate.

While reports suggest that a stem cell transplant is risky because it weakens the immune system, expensive and isn’t viable for HIV positive people “who can usually live normal, comfortable lives if they take antiretroviral drugs”, Dr Sharon Lewin, an infectious disease professor at Monash University in Melbourne told MedPage Today, “the next step is to confirm this in larger numbers. Lewin added that patients who undertake the treatment are “absolutely instrumental in moving the science forward”.

The impact of HIV/Aids in the world

Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that today about 34 million people live with HIV/AIDS in the world. Africa continues to be more affected by HIV than any other region of the world, accounting for 69% of people living with HIV globally, says UNAIDS.

Although more research is being done on HIV treatments, this advancement is good news for South Africa, which has the largest anti-retroviral treatment program in the world.

The fight against HIV also got a welcome boost this week as world health body WHO recommended that people with HIV receive treatment earlier. According to the new recommendations, governments must provide treatment when the patients’CD4 cell count drops to 500 cells. Currently in South Africa, patients start treatment when their CD4 cell count drops below 200.

Speaking on news channel eNCA this week, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said they will move to adopt the new recommendations early next year.

These new developments will certainly help HIV patients who receive treatment when their systems are already compromised.

In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to watch if this stem cell transplant development will one day become a viable HIV treatment.

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