An article in today’s Metro paper was titled ‘Bone marrow transplants could be the cure for HIV. It told the story of two Boston men who have been taken off antiretroviral drugs, 15 and 7 weeks ago, and who seem to be clear of the HIV virus following a bone marrow transplant. Both men had the bone marrow transplant as part of their treatment for a type of blood cancer and subsequently stopped taking medication when doctors realised that the level of HIV in their blood had fallen to undetectable levels. The patients had been HIV positive for over 30 years and so the sudden apparent eradication of HIV from their bodies seems to be an exciting development in HIV treatment.
Dr Daniel Kurtizkes – involved in the patients’ treatment
But does this mean that we now have a cure for HIV? Well, that really depends on what we mean by a cure. Doctors have said that it is too early to talk of a cure for these particular two patients, particularly because there is a chance that the virus could be lying dormant in their bodies and might reappear in the future . Besides, even if the patients do remain free of the virus forever it seems we need to be cautious using the word cure as it is extremely unlikely that this approach to treating HIV could be used widely (at least at the moment). Firstly, bone marrow transplants are extremely risky – there is estimated to be a 20% chance of death carrying out the procedure. This is related to the fact that the immune system must be weakened to reduce the chance of rejection . In other words, for many patients it could be safer continuing HIV treatment than undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Secondly, bone marrow transplants are also complicated and very costly and so while such cases do bring hope and could one day lead to the eradication of HIV, they seem to be a step towards finding a cure, rather than a cure themselves. We might say we are at the beginning or the road to finding a cure, rather than having found one for HIV (See our other blogs on the topic here ).
What do you think? Is there a chance of rolling out bone marrow transplants on a wider scale? Are you HIV positive and would you risk such an operation if it were possible?
The GMI Partnership provide free sexual health services for gay and bisexual men in London, including counselling, mentoring and sexual health advice. For more information see our website).
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the GMI Partnership.