"The reason that this needs to be taken with some caution and perspective is that the unifying feature of these three people is that they all had cancer, and they all had life-threatening forms of blood cancer, and as a result needed to undergo a stem cell transplant in order to survive", said Dr. Schiffer.
But just like the protease inhibitors and triple therapy were not a cure in 1996, the eradication of HIV from the bodies of two men across more than a dozen years undergoing stem cell or bone marrow transplants with cells that have the CCR5 genetic mutation is simply not the promise of an impending cure for HIV for at least four important reasons: it is highly risky; it is extremely expensive; it is not scalable; and it is not sustainable.
The first was 12 years ago with Timothy Ray Brown, a Seattle man who's been free of HIV since 2007. HIV pills can cost a patient up to thousands of dollars monthly, depending on the drug combination, insurance coverage, rebates and discounts. Unfortunately, the treatment the Berlin and London patients had have failed in other patients, so it is not considered a cure.
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the latest study done in Britain shows the possibility of curing HIV/AIDS through stem-cell transplants and is a ray of hope to those living with HIV.More news: 2nd HIV patient in 'sustained remission,' physicians say
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The transplant involves killing nearly all the immune cells and replacing them with donor cells, and is so risky it can only be carried out on people with cancer.
The subsequent media hype surrounding the reported cure of the London patient very much reminds the plague generation of the speculation around a possible "cure for AIDS" when protease inhibitors and the triple therapy "AIDS cocktail" were first introduced in 1996.
The CCR5 gene, and the eponymous cell it codes for, nearly certainly play a crucial role in the collateral HIV cure. "Other HIV coreceptors exist besides CCR5, so such a method will not be effective in treating HIV if the virus infects through other coreceptors", he said. The two HIV-free patients described so far had to undergo destruction of their own bone marrow as part of cancer treatment.
His doctors found a donor with a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to HIV. Yes, these new drugs hopefully have less side effects to extend the life long use of expensive pharmaceuticals by all people living with HIV, but they are not a cure. Add to this that only about one percent of Caucasians are CCR5 negative-this being a mutation that only appears in European bloodlines-and it quickly becomes apparent that we can not feasibly use stem cell transplants to make every person with HIV enter remission. After receiving treatment, both patients were eventually taken off their anti-retroviral medications and subsequent examination showed that that even with very sensitive blood tests, the team could not detect HIV in their blood. Currently, less than 60 percent of the estimated 37 million people living with HIV around the world have access to the HIV cocktail treatment.
Most importantly, the HIV community learned that Brown's case was not unique.