Skip to Content

Bone-Marrow Transplant Appears to Halt HIV

The findings signal promise for new therapies in development.
November 10, 2008

A carefully selected bone-marrow transplant for a leukemia patient appears to have stopped the patient’s HIV infection: he shows no signs of the virus in his blood nearly two years after the procedure. While it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from a single case, the outcome gives hope for new avenues for AIDS treatment.

Some people are genetically resistant to HIV infection, even when they engage in frequent high-risk behavior–a fact that hematologist Gero Hütter wanted to take advantage of when faced with a 42-year-old patient with both leukemia and HIV. The patient needed a bone-marrow transplant, so Hütter searched compatible blood donors for a specific genetic mutation known to protect against most strains of HIV. Doctors then irradiated the patient’s immune system and transfused the donor cells.

The transplant surgeons halted his HIV drugs to give the new cells time to take root. They planned to resume the drugs once HIV was found in the patient’s blood. But according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the virus never came back.

Nearly two years later, standard tests haven’t detected virus in his blood, or in the brain and rectal tissues where it often hides … Normally when a patient stops taking AIDS drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days.

The treatment is unlikely to be broadly applicable: only about two-thirds of cancer patients survive the procedure. But scientists may be able to mimic the effect by reengineering patients’ own cells. Doctors are already testing gene-therapy treatments that target the gene that renders some people immune to the virus.

According to the WSJ,

While cautioning that the Berlin case could be a fluke, David Baltimore, who won a Nobel prize for his research on tumor viruses, deemed it “a very good sign” and a virtual “proof of principle” for gene-therapy approaches. Dr. Baltimore and his colleague, University of California at Los Angeles researcher Irvin Chen, have developed a gene therapy strategy against HIV that works in a similar way to the Berlin case. Drs. Baltimore and Chen have formed a private company to develop the therapy.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

protein structures
protein structures

DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science

The company has already used its protein-folding AI, AlphaFold, to generate structures for the human proteome, as well as yeast, fruit flies, mice, and more.

ASML machine
ASML machine

Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law

The Dutch firm ASML spent $9 billion and 17 years developing a way to keep making denser computer chips.

brain map
brain map

This is what happens when you see the face of someone you love

The moment we recognize someone, a lot happens all at once. We aren’t aware of any of it.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.