In Spain, researchers are enthusiastic to begin the world’s first human trial for treatment of AIDS through umbilical cord stem cells. The 3-year planned trial was announced by Spain’s National Organization of Transplants (ONT) at the Hematology conference in Valencia which includes five HIV infected patients.
The ONT trial is focused on recreating the success of the ‘Berlin Patient’ – Timothy Ray Brown, the only survivor who is completely cured of HIV. Timothy Brown was a HIV infected American patient living in Berlin when he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006. To treat his cancer, Timothy required chemotherapy and stem cell transplants to renew his immune system. The doctor who treated Timothy used bone marrow stem cells from donors who are resistant to HIV infection due to a particular mutation in their genes. After 2 rounds of stem cell transplantation, the levels of HIV infection reduced drastically. He became cancer free and the virus was present in traces but they cannot reproduce and affect him.
The same therapeutic strategy was followed to treat over a dozen of AIDS affected patients across the world but they were only functionally cured (the patients still harbour the HIV virus but do not require treatment). When the same procedure was once again tried on a Barcelona patient, he died due to Lymphoma. Thus, it is unclear for scientists to conclude if the disappearance of HIV is long term with stem cell transplant. This makes Timothy Brown (Berlin Patient), the only individual to have a sterilizing cure for the HIV virus as it is no longer found in his body.
Umbilical cord blood samples from 157 donors who have genetic mutation that is resistant to HIV have been selected for the ONT trial. The researchers are looking for HIV patients suffering from lymphomas, leukemias or other similar symptoms as subjects to see if the Barcelona patient’s case can be replicated. They are planning to use the donor umbilical cord stem cell transplants to treat the patients. This study will help the researchers to understand the disease better and also offer potential cure for the suffering patients.