Cure for HIV: Spanish doctors use blood transplants from umbilical cords with genetic resistance to virus to treat Barcelona man

By @vitthernandez on
Umbilical Cord
Medical personnel prepare to cut the umbilical cord after Maruja Caira's baby was delivered via a vertical birth in the Belenpampa maternity center in Cuzco March 22, 2008. Due to the preference of some Andean and Amazon women to give birth in a vertical position, several Peruvian hospitals are offering this option under healthy and professional conditions to avoid home births, reduce mortality rates of women and babies and respect women's traditions. Picture taken March 22, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil (PERU) TEMPLATE OU Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

A medical breakthrough in Spain could provide hope for actor Charlie Sheen who admitted recently that he has HIV. Until the discovery that blood transplants from umbilical cords could cure the virus, the closest medication available was a pill, Truvada, which prevents people from acquiring the virus.

However, the blood transplants from umbilical cords must come from one with genetic resistance to HIV. That is what doctors in Barcelona did to a 37-year-old man from the same Spanish city who was cured of HIV.

Although the patient died three years later, it was due to cancer because he developed lymphoma. But his death did not discourage Spanish doctors who believe they have a solution to the AID-causing virus that has infected more than 34 million people globally.

They tried initially to replicate the technique used on HIV patient Timothy Brown who was given bone marrow from a donor with resistance mutation from HIV. The CCR5 Delta 35 mutation affects the protein in white blood cells and provides one percent of the human population with high resistance to HIV infection, reports Imazansi.

The experimental treatment on Brown in a Berlin hospital was actually for his leukemia, but after the treatment, the HIV virus was also gone. But Barcelona doctors could not find a suitable bone marrow for their patient which is why they suggested blood from umbilical cord with the CCR Delta 35 mutation, explains Rafael Duarte, director of the Haematopoietic Transplant Programme at the Catalan Oncology Institute in Barcelona.

The Spanish patient’s blood cells were first destroyed with chemotherapy and replaced with new cells which includes the mutation that the HIV virus could not attach to. Stem cells from another donor were also given to hasten the regeneration process. He experienced recovery after 11 days and was cleared of the HIV virus after three months.

In March, Barcelona would conduct the world’s first clinical trial of umbilical cord transplants for HIV patients with blood cancers. The project has the backing of Spain’s National Transplant Organization. While the process is mainly designed for HIV patients suffering from cancer, the therapy allows doctors to speculate about a cure for HIV, says Javier Martinez, a virologist from Irsicaixa, a research foundation.

In the US, similar clinical trial was approved in March 2015 by the Food and Drug Administration. The method, developed by Sangamo Bioscience, involves getting stem cells from HIV-infected patients and using a gene editing tool to turn the stem cells into white blood cell with the CCR5 mutation. CCR5 is a protein that interferes with the virus’s ability to latch onto blood cells.

Calimmune, a drug research company, previously tested the method in early human clinical trials with only 12 patients. The procedure was found tolerable and with low risk of adverse side effects. Although the genetically modified cells lasted up to four year inside the patients, because of the small number of patients, the trial was considered not large enough to test the procedure’s effectiveness, reports Medicaldaily.