The Search for a Cure
For years, Timothy Brown -- the "Berlin patient" -- had been the lone individual in existence who could justifiably claim to have been cured of his HIV infection. This summer, he may have been joined by two others.
At the XIX International AIDS Conference, Daniel Kuritzkes, M.D., presented a study outlining how two HIV-infected men showed no traces of the virus in their blood more than two years after receiving an autologous stem cell transplant.
The procedure differed from the one Brown received in a pivotal way: While Brown's donor cells lacked the CCR5 receptor, the primary means by which HIV attaches to CD4+ cells, the two men received donor cells that did have the CCR5 receptor and were fully susceptible to HIV. If there were no need to find a CCR5-deficient matching donor for the transplant to be successful, it would make such a procedure far more realistic.
In addition, unlike Brown, the two men remained on antiretroviral therapy during the transplant period, which is believed to be key to their immune system's ability to completely suppress viral replication.
"The importance of our findings is that we have evidence now that we can protect uninfected cells from becoming infected when they're transplanted into an HIV-infected patient, a form of PrEP at the cellular level, if you will," Kuritzkes said.
These findings arguably made the loudest noise in the cure subfield this year, but they are by no means the only movement on the cure research front. Research continues in many directions as the world waits for further proof that latent HIV reservoirs can be activated and eliminated once and for all.