Patient gets accidental Aids cure - Daily Nation

Patient gets accidental Aids cure

Wednesday November 12 2008

German hematologist Gero Huetter of Berlin's

German hematologist Gero Huetter of Berlin's Charite Medical University attends a news conference on successful treatment of a HIV-infected patient after making a bone marrow transplant, in Berlin November 12, 2008. Photo/REUTERS 

BERLIN, Wednesday

The startling case of an Aids patient who was cured after undergoing a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia is stirring new hope that researchers might someday find a cure for Aids.

The patient, a 42-year-old American living in Berlin, is still recovering from his leukemia therapy, but he appears to have won his battle with Aids. Doctors have not been able to detect the virus in his blood for more than 600 days, despite his having ceased all conventional Aids medication. Normally when a patient stops taking Aids drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days.

“I was very surprised,” said the doctor, Gero Hütter.

The breakthrough appears to be that Dr Hütter, a soft-spoken hematologist who isn’t an Aids specialist, deliberately replaced the patient’s bone marrow cells with those from a donor who has a naturally occurring genetic mutation that renders his cells immune to almost all strains of HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

The development suggests a potential new therapeutic avenue and comes as the search for a cure has adopted new urgency. Many fear that current Aids drugs aren’t sustainable. Known as antiretrovirals, the medications prevent the virus from replicating but must be taken every day for life and are expensive for poor countries.

While cautioning that the Berlin case could be a fluke, David Baltimore, who won a Nobel prize for his research on tumour viruses, deemed it “a very good sign” and a virtual “proof of principle” for gene-therapy approaches.

Meanwhile, millions of people suffering from the disease are likely to die sooner if major donors battling a global financial crisis cut funding even for six months, the head of the UN Aids agency said today.

In such a scenario, the poorest countries in Africa and Asia would bear the brunt, with access to healthcare greatly reduced, Mr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS said.

Donors such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates have warned the global financial crisis could last two to three years, forcing rich nations to cut back spending on health aid.

An estimated 33 million people worldwide were infected with HIV in 2007, slightly down from 33.2 million in 2006, due to intensified efforts to fight the disease.

Reported by the Wall Street Journal and Reuters