A team of international scientists has found a new way to treat HIV positive people by giving stem cell transplants.
This study was published in the journal Nature on 5th March 2019. Scientists from University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg are a part of this team.
It was found in the study that HIV could be successfully treated with a newly found technique. HIV is a virus that affects the immune system of a person and spreads through certain body fluids.
To conduct this study, a couple of HIV positive patients were given stem cell transplants for a hematological [blood] disease as a part of their cancer treatment. These participants had stopped taking their regular HIV medication on receiving the transplant and showed no sign of HIV coming back.
The cells transplanted lacked critical entry gatekeepers, treated as a gene defect [CCR5delta32mutant]. HIV cells are infected through these genes.
The first patient to get this treatment and get announced as HIV free was Timothy Ray Brown from Berlin. He received the transplant treatment 12 years back and showed no signs of HIV bouncing back.
This happened because the cells transplanted were efficient enough to protect Brown’s immune system from HIV cells. Though, Brown also received aggressive chemotherapy, total body irradiation, and two stem cell transplants.
Now, patients from all over the world are enjoying this treatment and joining Brown’s HIV free squad. The new patients proved to be HIV free even after receiving stem transplant only once, mild cancer chemotherapy and without radiation.
About 39 patients registered with IciStem programme have successfully received the transplant treatment. IciStem is an International Collaboration to guide and investigate the potential for HIV cure by Stem Cell Transplantation.
Professor Francois Venter, Deputy Executive Director, Wits RHI said, “To be clear, this is not an option yet for people with HIV, even in very rich countries, but it is a major step forward. This is incredibly exciting, as it furthers our understanding of the complex immunology of HIV and should get us closer to a cure.”
Venter added, “Wits’ collaboration with Utrecht has been a delight and we have the combined expertise of Wits and Utrecht to do innovative work and conduct translational research that is published in top medical journals.”
This study is a major achievement toward finding a reliable and suitable cure for HIV. Though applied before on a Berlin patient, this cure gained momentum recently.