November 14th, 2008
05:59 PM ET

Not the cure for AIDS

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

A German hospital announced this week that a 42-year old American living in Berlin who did not want to be identified had come to them three years ago for treatment. It was determined that he had acute leukemia (blood cancer) and was HIV positive too.

After a bone marrow transplant, it appears that not only did the man’s cancer go away, so did the virus that causes AIDS.  This has been reported worldwide as a "cure" for AIDS. But even the doctors involved in this case say they don't know if they cured this man of HIV.  So what's all the fuss about? Should HIV patients be treated with a bone marrow transplant?

One of America’s top AIDS expert doesn’t think so. "This is interesting but not a practical application. It's not feasible and has extraordinarily limited practical application" long-time AIDS researcher and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.  He and other researchers first learned of this case back in February. But this study of one patient has not yet been published or been reviewed by other AIDS experts. It didn't get much attention back then because of the many limitations it has.  Dr. Robert Gallo is one of the scientists who discovered HIV. "While this procedure might help a very small minority of people living with AIDS,” Gallo says, “it is by no means the answer to the world's HIV/AIDS pandemic."

Doctors first began treating the cancer with chemotherapy. They also gave him anti-retrovirals to contain the virus that causes AIDS. Doctors said at a press conference this week that the patient did go into remission, but eventually the cancer came back. The next step to treat the cancer was a bone marrow transplant, which is common for leukemia patients.

His doctors emphasized that without further treatment, without the bone marrow transplant, he would have died of cancer – not HIV or AIDS.

But the patient’s physician, Dr. Gero Huetter, wanted to combine the cancer treatment with something he had heard about in medical school 12 years ago. That’s when researchers found out that a certain genetic mutation prevents the virus from getting into a person’s cells. But to be resistant to HIV, one has to have inherited this mutation from both parents.

So when it came to looking for a bone marrow donor for his patient, Huetter decided to see if he could find a donor that not only was a marrow match for his patient, but one who also had these two copies of the genetic mutation to see if they would get the bonus of treating the HIV, while treating the more urgent need – cancer.

Here's where the German doctors admit they were very lucky. They told reporters they normally find one to five qualified donors for their patients in need of a transplant. In this case they found 80 donors. So they systematically tested each donor for the mutation and when they came to the 61st potential donor they hit the jackpot. Nearly two years after the bone marrow transplant, the patient is still in remission from his cancer and he doesn't seem to have any detectable HIV either.

This is probably why many newspaper headlines interpreted the success as being a cure.

However there are many caveats to this story.

1. Even though their tests do not show a presence of HIV in his system, doesn't mean it's not there. This virus is known for hiding well and popping up later. It's been seen before in patients taking anti-retroviral drugs. It is possible that if more sophisticated tests were used on this patient, they would detect the virus that is still in his body. So it's still not entirely clear that he is HIV-free.

2. The chances of finding a bone marrow donor with two copies of this genetic mutation for everyone one of the 33 million people worldwide living with HIV or AIDS is not realistic because only one percent of Caucasians and zero percent of African Americans or Asians have this particular genetic mutation.

3. Bone marrow transplants are dangerous for patients. Before they can get the donated stem cells that will replace their own, they have to take strong chemotherapy to destroy their own bone marrow - leaving them without an immune system to fight off any disease - until the transplanted bone marrow can make new blood cells. Plus patients run the risk of rejecting the new cells, which means they have to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their life.

4. Bone marrow transplants are very expensive and not an option for many people living with this disease around the world.

Both the doctors in Berlin and AIDS experts we've spoken with say this is a "proof of principle." "It's an interesting case for researchers," according to Dr. Rudolf Tauber, from the Charite hospital in Berlin, where the patient was treated. The hope is that this one case could lead to future treatments. Dr. Gallo says, "If patients living with HIV and AIDS have access and can adhere to today's retroviral therapy, many will live longer, healthier lives, perhaps full length lives."

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

« Previous entry
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Queenie Mervin

    Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic however I'd figured I'd ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you're interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!


    January 27, 2021 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Antonette Beachamp

    This is a very interesting article. Please, share more like this!


    February 1, 2021 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. szybkie chwilówki

    Keep working ,splendid job! https://chwilowki-pozyczka.pl – szybkie chwilówki https://chwilowki-pozyczka.pl/

    February 21, 2021 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ClarkTauts

    qmk6a zjef5 hd6f

    February 28, 2021 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ClarkTauts

    fa1we 233hk 2djy

    March 1, 2021 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Anonymous Private Proxies For Sneakers

    Thanks for the helpful write-up. It is also my belief that mesothelioma has an really long latency time period, which means that signs and symptoms of the disease might not emerge until finally 30 to 50 years after the 1st exposure to mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, and that is the most common form and affects the area throughout the lungs, might result in shortness of breath, upper body pains, plus a persistent cough, which may bring about coughing up our blood.


    March 25, 2021 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Best Shared Proxy

    you got a very wonderful website, Gladiolus I discovered it through yahoo.


    March 26, 2021 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. sildenafil order

    sildenafil in singapore https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil online without prescription

    April 3, 2021 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. online casino apps real money

    I'm truly enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It's a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for
    me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?

    Exceptional work!

    April 3, 2021 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tadalafil daily use

    tadalafil pills 20mg https://elitadalafill.com/ tadalafil 40

    April 3, 2021 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. generic levitra vardenafil

    vardenafil levitra https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil dosage instructions

    April 6, 2021 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. chloroquineorigin

    chloroquine phosphate cloroquina chloroquine tablets https://chloroquineorigin.com/

    May 20, 2021 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. avana

    avana 200 mg buy avana canada

    May 25, 2021 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. https://www.yamatocosmos.com

    Best view i have ever seen !


    June 3, 2021 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. cure for covid 19

    drug chloroquine didier raoult coronavirus malaria drug chloroquine

    June 4, 2021 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. best research tadalafil

    tadalafil blood pressure tadalafil troche cost tadalafil from india reviews

    June 6, 2021 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. canada generic tadalafil

    intimate medicine cialis cost tadanafil

    June 6, 2021 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. www.pharmaceptica.com

    sildenafil 1mg https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 20, 2021 at 04:15 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.