As suggested in the latest medical discovery by Spanish doctors, the cure to HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to AIDS, may have been found. According to the World Health Organization, over 34 million people worldwide are affected with AIDS at the moment.
A team of doctors in Barcelona found that HIV can be treated by using blood transplants from the umbilical cords of individuals with a genetic resistance to HIV. This procedure has proved successful with a 37-year-old patient who’d been cured of this virus after receiving blood transplant.
Although this patient died three years later because he developed lymphoma, the Barcelona research team remain hopeful that this will be a breakthrough in the fight against HIV and related conditions, reports the Spanish news source El Mundo.
The treatment was first used on Timothy Brown, an HIV patient who had developed leukemia before receiving the trial treatment in Berlin, stated the Spanish news site The Local.
Brown received bone marrow transplant from a donor who carried the resistance mutation from HIV. The HIV virus had also disappeared after the cancer treatment.
The Local reports that the CCR5 Delta 35 mutation affects a protein in white blood cells and provides an estimated 1% of the human population with high resistance to infection from HIV.
Although Spanish doctors struggled to treat the lymphoma of the so-called “Barcelona patient” with chemotherapy and an auto-transplant of the cells, they couldn’t find him a suitable bone marrow.
“We suggested a transplant of blood from an umbilical cord but from someone who had the mutation because we knew from ‘the Berlin patient’ that as well as [ending] the cancer, we could also eradicate HIV,” said Rafael Duarte, the director of the Hematopoietic Transplant Programme at the Catalan Oncology Institute in Barcelona, for The Local.
Before a bone marrow transplant takes place, the patient’s blood cells are destroyed with chemotherapy and then replaced with new cells that include the mutation, meaning HIV is no longer able to bind with them. To speed up the regeneration process, stem cells from another donor were used for the Barcelona patient.
The patient recovered eleven days after receiving the transplant. Three months later, it was found that he no longer had HIV.
This unique case has spurred an ambitious project supported by Spain’s National Transplant Organization despite the unfortunate death of the patient from cancer.
The first clinical trials of umbilical cord transplants for HIV patients with blood cancers will start taking place in March 2016.
According to Javier Martinez, a virologist from the research foundation Irsicaixa, this treatment is principally aimed at assisting HIV patients suffering from cancer, but added that “this therapy does allow us to speculate about a cure for HIV.”