Two HIV positive men who underwent bone marrow transplants have stopped taking antiretroviral medication, and HIV is undetectable in their bloodstream. Whilst doctors agree that it is premature to claim a cure for HIV, it is hoped that this will drive progress towards completely eradicating the virus.

The transplants took place at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Centre in Boston, after the men were diagnosed with cancers of the blood. As their own cells were being replaced by those of the bone marrow donor, tests detected levels of the HIV steadily decreasing to undetectable. HIV is able to become active again after periods of low levels, however scientists remain hopeful, having thoroughly screened the men’s blood cells and tissues with no HIV detectable.

“While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured,” said Brigham employee Timothy Henrich. “Long-term follow up of at least one year will be required to understand the full impact of a bone marrow transplant on HIV persistence.”

Scientists are still looking into alternative pathways on the hunt for the cure for HIV, especially as bone marrow transplants result in a lifetime of immune suppressing drugs, and the transplants carry a 15-20% mortality rate. However the knowledge gleamed from this experience will no doubt aid further research into combating the virus.

“Five years ago if you’d mentioned a cure, research people wouldn’t have taken you seriously,” Henrich said. “We’re not there yet. Are we close? Probably not, but who knows? This could be a rapid learning curve in the next few years.”

Whilst research is underway, reducing the transmission of HIV remains paramount. Using protection such as condoms reduces risk, however STI testing after each sexual partner should become common practice. HIV is a manageable condition which should not impinge on a person’s health or life expectancy, but only if it is diagnosed and treated. Do not delay; call Better2Know’s booking team on the number at the top of the page to book your test.

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