Stem cell transplant accidentally cures a case of HIV

Stem Cells

Researchers have cured a man of HIV "accidentally" after a stem cell transplant. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists in Germany have announced the successful use of a stem cell transplant to cure a man of HIV. However, the treatment will only work for people who have specific genes. This is one of the latest HIV related breakthroughs, but there is no full cure yet.

Man cured of HIV using stem cell transplant

An American man living in Berlin received a stem cell transplant that cured him of HIV, according to Popular Science. The discovery was made by accident, as Timothy Ray Brown, who has also been referred to as the “Berlin patient,” actually got the stem cell transplant in 2007 to treat a different condition of his: leukemia. His condition was monitored after the transplant, and the traces of HIV have totally disappeared. However, there is a hitch, in that only certain stem cells from certain people can work, and those cells are incredibly hard to find.

Rare breed of cells

The stem cells in question have to be taken from a person who has a very specific gene. The gene in question causes the CD4 receptor, a component of white blood cells, to lack a component called the CCR5 receptor. The CCR5 receptor is one of the primary targets of HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If a person has the gene that causes the CCR5 receptor to be absent, HIV cannot infiltrate white blood cells, and having the gene makes a person immune to HIV. The hitch, of course, is also that only 1 percent of only Western and Northern European males are known to carry the gene, according to Fox News.

Not a realistic cure

Unfortunately, this treatment is far from being readily available. The stem cell transplant was done to cure Brown’s leukemia, which it did, but he had to endure years of painful treatments and immune system suppressing drugs to make sure his body didn’t reject the transplanted stem cells. A person needs to be paired with exactly the right donor, and there aren’t many. The treatment is not only incredibly painful, but prohibitively expensive and experimental.

Sources

Popular Science

Fox News

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