HIV may have returned in 'cured' patient: scientists

June 13, 2012

An American man whose HIV seemed to disappear after a blood marrow transplant for leukemia may be showing new hints of the disease, sparking debate over whether a cure was really achieved.

Scientists disagree over the latest findings on Timothy Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient," presented at a conference in Spain last week, according to a report in the journal Science's ScienceInsider blog.

Brown was given in 2006 that appeared to eradicate the from his body, leading his doctors to declare a "cure of has been achieved" in the peer-reviewed journal Blood in 2010.

The transplants came from a donor with an unusual genetic mutation that is naturally resistant to HIV. About one in 100 people have this mutation which prevents the molecule CCR5 from appearing on the .

The latest debate arose after virologist Steven Yukl of the University of California, San Francisco, gave a talk on June 8 at the International Workshop on HIV & Hepatitis Virus.

Yukl "highlighted the difficulties that they and several labs they collaborated with have had determining if Brown truly had eradicated the virus from his body," said the ScienceInsider report.

"There are some signals of the virus and we don't know if they are real or contamination, and, at this point, we can't say for sure whether there's been complete eradication of HIV," Yukl was quoted as saying by ScienceInsider.

"The point of the presentation was to raise the question of how do we define a cure and, at this level of detection, how do we know the signal is real?"

However, some scientists interpreted the presentation to mean that a cure was not actually achieved, and that Brown may even have been re-infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

Alain Lafeuillade of the General Hospital in Toulon, France, issued a press release that described how Yukl and colleagues "challenged these results as they showed persistence of low levels of HIV viremia in this patient, and HIV DNA in his rectal cells."

He noted that "these HIV strains were found to be different from those initially present in this patient back in 2006, and different from each other."

While that could mean the HIV has "evolved and persist(ed) over the last 5 years, these data also raise the possibility that the patient has been re-infected," Lafeuillade wrote.

"More studies are in progress to know if this seronegative HIV individual can infect other subjects if he has unsafe sex," he concluded.

Yukl, quoted by ScienceInsider, said Lafeuillade misinterpreted the presentation.

""We weren't trying to say HIV was still there or he hadn't been cured," he said, noting the talk centered on how to interpret very sensitive test results on Brown's blood cells, plasma and rectal tissue.

One of his collaborators, Douglas Richman of the University of California, San Diego, said he believes researchers have picked up contaminants.

"If you do enough cycles of PCR (polymerase chain reaction), you can get a signal in water for pink elephants," Richman was quoted as saying.

Explore further: Gene therapy reduces HIV levels in small trials

Related Stories

Gene therapy reduces HIV levels in small trials

September 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- This weekend at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago, Illinois, researchers from two different study groups, one on the east coast and one on the west coast, ...

Computer simulations help explain why HIV cure remains elusive

March 15, 2012
A new research report appearing in the March 2012 issue of the journal Genetics shows why the development of a cure and new treatments for HIV has been so difficult. In the report, an Australian scientist explains how he ...

Recommended for you

Scientists find where HIV 'hides' to evade detection by the immune system

October 19, 2017
In a decades-long game of hide and seek, scientists from Sydney's Westmead Institute for Medical Research have confirmed for the very first time the specific immune memory T-cells where infectious HIV 'hides' in the human ...

National roll-out of PrEP HIV prevention drug would be cost-effective

October 18, 2017
Providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to men who have sex with men who are at high risk of HIV infection (equivalent to less than 5% of men who have sex with men at any point in time) in England would be cost-effective, ...

Regulatory T cells harbor HIV/SIV virus during antiviral drug treatment

October 17, 2017
Scientists at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University have identified an additional part of the HIV reservoir, immune cells that survive and harbor the virus despite long-term treatment with antiviral drugs.

New research opens the door to 'functional cure' for HIV

October 17, 2017
In findings that open the door to a completely different approach to curing HIV infections, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have for the first time shown that a novel compound effectively ...

Researchers create molecule that could 'kick and kill' HIV

October 5, 2017
Current anti-AIDS drugs are highly effective at making HIV undetectable and allowing people with the virus to live longer, healthier lives. The treatments, a class of medications called antiretroviral therapy, also greatly ...

A sixth of new HIV patients in Europe 50 or older: study

September 27, 2017
People aged 50 and older comprise a growing percentage of HIV patients in Europe, accounting for one in six new cases in 2015, researchers said Wednesday.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.