A leukemia patient that is also HIV/AIDS infected is the only and the first person to be cured when transplanted with stem cells that were resistant to HIV. This happened in Berlin last 2007 and this has encouraged researchers to view this as a cure for the HIV infection because extensive analysis of the different organs and tissues of the patient shows it to be free from HIV.
HIV is difficult to cure because of its capability to destroy the body’s CD4 white blood cell that is responsible for protecting the immune system by warding off infections and illnesses that invade it. Once an HIV-infected person undergoes retroviral treatments, the HIV virus becomes inactive but never leaves. The virus will only lie dormant in the body waiting for the time to get activated again once the medication is stopped.
That patient in Berlin was cured because of a donor that has CCR5 delta 32, a rare genetic mutation that can only be found in a handful of people. The HIV virus can only invade and replicate when the white blood cells are made of CCR5, but the people who have this unique genetic mutation do not possess functional CCR5 which makes them resistant to the HIV virus.
The doctor of this particular patient looked for a donor that had this rare gene and made him a donor in a bone marrow transplant. After the transplant, the patient was not able to maintain his HIV drugs because of other difficult treatments that he was receiving. Miraculously, even without the help of HIV drugs, the HIV virus dropped to a point where it could no longer be detected, even with the use of highly sensitive tests and procedures.
Is this the cure for every HIV-infected person? It might well be but for now a lot of work still needs to be done. For one, the carriers of that rare genetic mutation are so small, only a few that could not even reach 2% composed mostly of Western Europeans and Americans. At the same time, even with a donor, a perfect match has to be established before a successful transplant can be achieved. Even though that successful transplant was able to get rid of the HIV virus, still, several factors have to be considered before it could be rightfully declared that a cure for HIV/AIDS is available. For now, there is still no cure that is available for HIV.
There has been a move from a group of researchers bent on exploring the idea of genetically changing the cells of patients to make it capable of fighting off HIV. Patients afflicted with HIV lymphoma were the subject of the first experiment which were given small doses of cells that were modified genetically. The study showed that even after a period of two years, the modified cells were able to expand and survive.
The use of stem cells is also being eyed by other researchers. There was a time when medical experts said that stem cells will never be the path to a cure, but the case of the Berlin patient proved them all wrong.