Stem Cells Cut AIDS Virus in Patient, Ending Need for Drugs

A German AIDS patient was able to stop drugs he had been taking for 10 years after getting a transplant of stem cells from a donor with a rare gene variant known to resist the deadly disease. The transplant also cured his leukemia, researchers reported.

The stem cell donor was among the 1 percent of Caucasians who have the variant gene that lacks a section known as CCR5 that helps the AIDS virus enter a cell, according to a report today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Doctors in Berlin hoped that putting the donor’s stem cells in the patient would rebuild his immune system and blood cells so they would lack the CCR5 piece.

The results of the experiment may point researchers to a new way of controlling the AIDS virus HIV that doesn’t force patients to take drugs for the rest of their lives. Scientists will now intensify their search for therapies that achieve the same effect, predicted Jay Levy, a University of California, San Francisco, AIDS researcher.

“I think this article is going to stimulate a lot of companies to put more emphasis on gene therapy,” Levy said yesterday in a telephone interview. He wasn’t involved in the research and wrote an editorial published today that accompanied the study.

One such trial sponsored by Sangamo Biosciences of Richmond, California, recently began at the University of Pennsylvania. It will test a gene therapy that aims to modify the immune cells in 12 patients infected with HIV so they lack the CCR5 receptor.

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