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HIV Said Cleared in Two Bone Marrow Transplant Patients

Two cancer patients who were also infected with HIV went through bone marrow transplants and may no longer have the AIDS-causing virus, according to Australian doctors.

The DNA of HIV or antibodies against the virus weren’t found in the patients who suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia and underwent the transplants in 2010 and 2011, according to a statement from the University of New South Wales. Both men continue to take antiretroviral therapy after the transplants, the university said.

The two patients remain on the therapy because of risks the virus may return, said Sam Milliken, a hematologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney who helped lead the research. Previously, HIV returned to two transplant patients in Boston who went off the treatments and were thought to have been free from the virus.

“If we understand what the process was, why the transplant has this very strong anti-HIV effect, that would be very fascinating,” said David Cooper, an HIV specialist at the Kirby Institute of University of New South Wales and another leader of the research. “If we can understand how to harness that, then we may do better than some of the other cure strategies that are around.”

The Australian findings will be presented at a symposium which is part of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne to be held July 20-25. The researchers will study more patients to understand the mechanism that allowed the suppression of the virus to obtain insight to treat HIV better, said Milliken.

A number of centers have reported that transplants during antiretroviral therapy can lead to dramatic reduction in the amount of HIV, said Steven Deeks, a professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

“Without a treatment interruption and prolonged virus-free periods (e.g., at least a month), there is not much new here,” Deeks said via e-mail.

Only one person, American Timothy Ray Brown, is known to have been cured after he had two transplants in Berlin. The second donor’s bone marrow had included both copies of genes that afford protection against HIV.

A Mississippi baby thought to have been cured of HIV was recently found to have the virus again after two years without therapy.

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