HIV Reappears in Two Patients Thought to Be Cured

The two male patients seemingly cured of HIV thanks to bone marrow transplants have both begun to show signs of the virus again, according to researchers in Boston.

Dr. Timothy Henrich of Brigham and Women's hospital presented the disappointing news yesterday at an AIDS research conference in Florida, saying that both patients had resumed HIV medications after the virus reappeared.

The two patients, both battling HIV for years, had received bone marrow transplants to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. After the transplants, both showed undetectable levels of the HIV virus. The patients agreed to stop taking HIV medications to help researchers determine if the marrow transplant was responsible for the virus disappearing.

When both patients showed undetectable virus levels after several weeks without treatment (seven weeks and 15 weeks, respectively), Henrich's team revealed this finding to the medical community. But the virus reappeared in one patient in August, and in the other in November, after eight months with no HIV detected.

Heinrich said the finding demonstrates that HIV's genetic code stays latent in "reservoirs" of cells, indicating the virus is more persistent than previously realized. While researchers are disappointed in the finding, those who heard the presentation yesterday said the Boston team's findings are still dramatically important in the fight to understand and fight HIV.

While the reappearance of the virus in these two patients is a setback, others HIV patients seem to remain cured, including a three-year-old child born HIV positive but given aggressive treatment shortly after birth and an adult patient who remains HIV-free after a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare HIV resistant gene. So the investigation continues. [The Boston Globe]