Entries in Cure (10)


Study Found Adults 'Functionally Cured' of HIV Before Mississippi Baby

ABC News Radio(NEW YORK) -- On the heels of the supposed first "functional cure" for HIV in a baby born in Mississippi, French researchers reported Friday that they had studied 14 adult patients who had experienced a similar remission from the virus. The patients in the French study had been off HIV medications for up to 10 years.

The French researchers followed patients who underwent treatment with antiretroviral drugs soon after they'd become infected with HIV. After taking the medications for several years, they stopped taking the antiretrovirals. That was "fashionable at the time," said Christine Rouzioux, a professor at Necker Hospital and University of Paris Descartes. They are all now in what Rouzioux calls "HIV remission," because the virus has not worsened and they have not shown symptoms for years.

"I know that the U.S. term is 'functional cure,'" Rouzioux told "In France, we speak about 'remission.' … The patient controls the virus, but they still have the virus."

The study, which was published Friday in the journal PLOS Pathogens, may show that the baby was not the first documented case of someone "functionally cured" of HIV as researchers announced earlier this month.

Rouzioux and Public Library of Science representatives told that they did not rush their study into publication when the case of the Mississippi baby was announced.

Dr. Deborah Persaud, who works at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and studied the Mississippi baby, said there were similarities between the 14 French patients and the baby, but that the baby had even lower HIV levels than the French patients.

While Rouzioux and Asier Sáez-Cirión, a senior HIV researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, reported about 100 copies of HIV DNA or RNA per 1 million cells in their patients, Persaud said she found less than five copies of HIV DNA or RNA per 1 million cells in the Mississippi baby.

"I'm not sure anybody knows what that means," said Dr. Mark Kline, a pediatric HIV and AIDS specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "I don't know that someone with five is necessarily going to be better off in the long term than someone with 100."

Kline said he, too, has had patients who were technically HIV-positive but have had no need for antiretroviral medication. He has also heard of patients who started antiretroviral therapy and were able to stop without experiencing worsening symptoms.

"This phenomenon that they're describing has been appreciated and known," Kline said. "I think there's a good rationale for saying if you can identify these people and do treatment earlier, you can decrease the viral burden and decrease the reservoirs of infected cells in the body and probably alter the long-term course."

It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years after infection for a person to show symptoms of HIV. As such, early treatment isn't always an option, according to Kline.

Rouzioux's patients all experienced symptoms very early, which is why they were able to get swift antiretroviral treatment, she said. Rouzioux and her colleagues followed their patients for about 11 years, she said.

Although these types of patients have been written about before, Kline said this particular study was important because it identified which patients had a genetic predisposition that allowed them to naturally keep HIV at bay and which patients did not, and therefore went into remission because of treatment.

Rouzioux's colleague, Sáez-Cirión, said about 0.5 percent of all HIV-positive patients were able to control the virus without medication because of a genetic predisposition, but the 14 people in the study did not have this advantage.

The researchers concluded that HIV-positive patients who undergo early treatment for at least one year have a 15 percent chance of going into HIV remission for at least two years after stopping treatment.

"The probability was 10 to 15 percent, which is amazing when compared with the probability of natural (non-drug-induced) control," Sáez-Cirión said.

Still, it's not wise for HIV-positive patients to stop taking medications because they can develop resistance to them, Kline said.

"Those are bridges you can burn that you can never rebuild," he said. "If you just stop treatment or take treatment intermittently, it's very likely that you'll develop a resistance to one or more medications. Once a resistance is present in an individual, it's there to stay. There may be no going back to those particular medications."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Two More Patients HIV-Free After Bone Marrow Transplants

Bananastock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have discovered that, following bone marrow transplants, two men no longer have detectable HIV in their blood cells.

The finding is significant because it suggests that by giving these patients transplants while they were on anti-retroviral therapy, they may have been cured of the AIDS-causing virus.

“We expected HIV to vanish from the patients’ plasma, but it is surprising that we can’t find any traces of HIV in their cells,” said Dr. Timothy Henrich, one of the researchers studying the two men. “It suggests that under the cover of anti-retroviral therapy, the cells that repopulated the patient’s immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV.”

The findings were presented Thursday at the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. The story shares similarities with that of Timothy Ray Brown, also known as “the Berlin patient,” but there are important differences. While the cells used in Brown’s transplant procedure were specifically chosen from a donor who had a genetic mutation that resisted HIV, these patients received transplants with normal cells. Also, the two patients whose cases were presented at the meeting are still taking anti-retroviral medications normally used to treat HIV-positive patients, while Brown is no longer taking these medications.

Further study will need to be done to prove that the two patients are truly cured.

“Studies over time including biopsies of lymphatic tissue would be required,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert from University of Alabama at Birmingham. He said only time will tell if these patients remain HIV-free.

While it appears from these cases, as well as that of the Berlin patient, that altering a patient’s immune system may lead to a “cure” for HIV, bone marrow transplants are currently too costly and dangerous for all HIV patients to be able to undergo them.

Separately, scientists are trying to use gene therapy to alter patients’ immune systems to free them of HIV.  Most of the research in this field is very preliminary, but scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are trying to perform stem cell transplants with cells that have been genetically modified to be resistant to HIV, much like the cells that the Berlin patient received.

“We have not yet transplanted any patient as part of our study,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and an attending transplant physician at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. But Kiem and his research team have recently been awarded a research grant to further investigate stem cell transplantation as treatment as a means to find a cure for HIV.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man Cured of HIV Says He's Still HIV-Free

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Timothy Ray Brown, who is believed to be the first person to have ever been cured of HIV, had a message for the room of scientists, advocates and journalists who'd gathered to hear him speak at the International AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

His message: He is still free of the virus that causes AIDS.

"Let me be clear. I am HIV-negative," Brown told a news conference.

Brown, famously known as "the Berlin Patient," responded directly to a controversy that arose recently when tissue samples from his blood cells, plasma and rectum showed evidence of HIV when tested.

Steven Yuki at the University of California, San Francisco, and one of the scientists who'd tested Brown's samples, expressed doubts during a June 8 talk at the International Workshop on HIV and Hepatitis Virus in Sitges, Spain.

"There are some signals of the virus, and we don't know if they are real or contamination," Yuki said in June, "and, at this point, we can't say for sure whether there's been complete eradication of HIV."

Nevertheless, Brown said he had been off anti-retrovirals now for five years, and was doing well.

Brown's story -- arguably one of the most followed in the realm of HIV research -- began in 1995 when he was diagnosed with HIV while attending school in Berlin. For the next 11 years, doctors treated him with anti-retroviral therapy, to which he responded positively.

In 2006, however, Brown's health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia -- and underwent chemotherapy. While the first round of treatment appeared to work, it also made him more susceptible to infections. Brown developed pneumonia early on in his treatment, and he battled sepsis halfway through his third round of chemo. His doctors realized they would have to try a different approach.

His oncologist, Dr. Gero Hutter of the Charite Hospital in Berlin, opted to give Brown a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia. But rather than choosing a matched donor, he used the stem cells of a donor he found who had what is known as a CCR5 mutation -- a mutation that makes cells immune to the HIV. In results later published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Hutter and his colleagues reported that the transplant not only treated Brown's leukemia but had also eliminated the HIV from his system.

Brown stopped taking his anti-retrovirals three months later, and he said he has never needed them since. The only drawback of his treatment is that he has endured some neurological damage. "There was a period after my transplant when I couldn't even walk," he said.

Brown's stem cell procedure was so difficult and expensive that most agree it is unlikely that it will be used as a way to cure HIV for the millions of others who are infected.

Still, the hope that Brown's case could pave the way for a widely used cure remains. During his talk, Brown announced that he would be starting a foundation, the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, in conjunction with the World AIDS Institute. This foundation, he said, would be the only one in the country dedicated solely to finding a cure for HIV.

Brown also urged leaders and other members of the scientific community to focus more funding and efforts specifically toward finding a cure.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio 


Man Cured of AIDS: ‘I Feel Good’

Bananastock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The fact that Timothy Brown is a reasonably healthy 46-year-old is no small thing.  Only a few years ago, he had AIDS.

“I feel good,” Brown told ABC News.  “I haven’t had any major illnesses, just occasional colds like normal people.”

Brown is the only person in the world to be cured of AIDS, the result of a transplant of blood stem cells he received to treat leukemia.

“My case is the proof in concept that HIV can be cured,” he said.

Brown got lucky.  The blood stem cells he received came from a donor with a special genetic mutation that made him resistant to HIV.  The genetic mutation occurs in less than 1 percent of Caucasians, and far less frequently in people of other races.  Before Brown got his transplant in 2007, doctors tested nearly 70 donors for this genetic mutation before they found one who was a match.

But doctors hope that a similar solution could help other people with HIV: umbilical cord blood transplants.

Dr. Lawrence Petz, medical director of StemCyte, an umbilical cord blood bank, said although Brown was cured by his transplant, the process was complicated because the blood stem cells came from an adult donor.

“When you do that you have to have a very close match between donor and recipient,” Petz said.  “With umbilical cord blood, we don’t need such a close match.  It’s far easier to find donor matches.”

But it’s still not that easy.  Petz and his colleagues have tested 17,000 samples of cord blood so far, and found just 102 that have the genetic HIV-resistant mutation.  The team performed the first cord blood transplant on an HIV-infected patient a few weeks ago, and they have another transplant planned for a similar patient in Madrid, Spain, later this year.  It will still be months before researchers can tell if the transplants have any effect on the patients’ HIV.

Petz also noted that transplants aren’t performed solely to treat AIDS.  Patients who get them have an additional condition that requires a blood stem cell transplant.  Curing their AIDS would be an incredible bonus.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cancer Drug Erases Alzheimer’s in Mice

Comstock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- A drug typically used to treat skin cancer quickly reversed Alzheimer’s disease in mice, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Alzheimer’s researchers call the results exciting, but they remain cautious about the drug’s ability to fight the disease in humans.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University gave the drug to mice that had brain hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: abnormal protein plaques and tangles, which destroy the brain’s centers for memory and cognitive function.

Within hours of taking the drug, the plaques began to clear out of the mice’s brains. After three days on the drug, more than 50 percent of the Alzheimer’s plaques had disappeared, and the mice regained some of the cognitive and memory functions typically lost by the disease’s destructive march through the brain.

“We were absolutely astounded and thrilled,” said Paige Cramer, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “The research on treatments out there doesn’t show such improvement with such speed.”

The drug, bexarotene, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of skin cancer. Cramer said it helps the body increase its stores of a key protein, called ApoE, which helps clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

“As a consequence of aging, the ability to clear plaque from the brain goes down, and we are able to enhance ApoE,” Cramer said. “The benefit of this drug is we are just facilitating or enhancing Mother Nature.”

But the drug must make the leap from success in mice to success in humans, which has foiled many other promising Alzheimer’s drugs. Researchers say bexarotene has an advantage because it is already approved by the FDA for use in humans.

“It’s still an animal study, and it still needs to be moved into humans. But it is exciting and is a novel approach,” said Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

A host of potential drugs for Alzheimer’s disease have shown promise in early research, then failed to show any actual effectiveness against the disease upon further study. Most recently, in January, Pfizer and Medivation pulled the plug on clinical trials for dimebon, an antihistamine nasal spray that had shown some benefit for Alzheimer’s patients. The companies said the clinical trials failed to show that the drug actually worked against the disease.

Dr. William Klunk, co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, said the current study on bexarotene opens an exciting new avenue for the potential successful treatment of the disease. But he remains cautiously optimistic.

“We in this field have seen enough success in mouse studies not pan out in human studies to know this is just the beginning and there’s a long way to go,” Klunk said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Blowfish’ for Hangovers: Cure or Red Herring?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Alka-Seltzer-like tablet that claims to cure hangovers is set to hit New York City drugstores in January.

The tablet, called “Blowfish,” combines aspirin, caffeine and an antacid to fight the headache, fatigue and upset stomach typical after a night of drinking. When dropped into a glass of water, it fizzes up a lemony brew that packs the hangover-fighting power of two extra-strength aspirins, three espressos and a greasy breakfast.

“It’s the only over-the-counter drug that’s specifically hangover related,” Blowfish creator Brenna Haysom told ABC News. “The [Food and Drug Administration] has specifically said our formula is effective for treating hangover symptoms.”

The FDA did not immediately return ABC News’ requests for a comment. Contrary to recent headlines, the agency did not approve the drug. Because the over-the-counter formula combines drugs that are already approved, it didn’t have to. It does, however, regulate the manufacturing process and the drug’s packaging.

“Like all drug packaging, it has a lot of warnings for people with certain conditions,” said Haysom, describing the health risks of aspirin – a blood thinner – for people with bleeding conditions.  “And pregnant women should not take it, but hopefully they don’t need to be taking it!”

A hangover is a collection of symptoms that emerge when alcohol’s intoxicating effects start to wear off. Research on hangover treatments is scarce, but alcohol is thought to trigger an inflammatory response – a process blocked by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. The inflammatory response is similar to the body’s defense against flu, and is linked to lethargy – an energy lull boosted by caffeine. Finally, the chemicals produced by the body to break alcohol down are hard on the stomach – collateral damage tempered by an antacid.

But it’s unclear whether Blowfish, which contains acetylsalicylic acid and citric acid to mitigate some of its stomach-soothing effects, is better than the age-old hangover remedy: Aspirin and a cup of coffee.

“Almost no research at all has been done on the hangover state,” said Dr. Timothy Collins, associate professor of medicine and neurology at Duke University Medical Center’s Pain and Palliative Care Clinic. “One of the things we know from headache clinical trials is that at least 25 percent of patients getting a placebo say it worked really well for them. One in four people are going to say this helps, but we just don’t know.”

A two-tablet dose of Blowfish (which is what the makers recommend for a typical hangover) contains 1,000 milligrams of aspirin, 120 milligrams of caffeine 816 milligrams of sodium and 25.2 milligrams of phenylalanine. The makers, West Village-based Rally Labs, are so convinced of their product’s hangover-quashing effects they offer a money-back guarantee.

Blowfish is already sold at Ricky’s in New York City, and will be sold nationally early next year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's: Is Prevention Better Than a Cure?

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Doctors use a variety of tests and medical histories to determine if a person has Alzheimer's. While there is no cure for the disease, there are a number of therapies and drugs to help slow its progression. Now the associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York says that some of the drugs being tested reduce plaque that may damage brain cells in Alzheimer's patients.
Dr. Sam Gandy says these drugs have not improved cognitive skills, however. He thinks that's perhaps because the decrease in plaque was not significant enough, or the period of treatment was not long enough, or even that removing plaque cannot reverse damage that's already been done.
That's why he says Alzheimer's therapy should focus on preventing the formation of plaque in the first place.
But reliable biomarkers, or indicators for Alzheimer's, will need to be developed so that people at risk can be identified early and started on preventive treatment.
Until then, Dr. Gandy concludes, lowering plaque levels in the brain is the best hope for Alzheimer's patients.

Dr. Gandy's editorial is published in Nature.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Progeria Patients May Get Hope with New Research

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Doctors may be closer to finding a cure for patients with Progeria, an extremely rare and fatal genetic disorder which causes children to age eight to 10 times the normal rate, according to a new study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Progeria is caused by a protein called progerin which accumulates in cells much faster than the average rate.  But researchers found that a drug known as rapamycin slowed and even stopped the disease progression within the cells.

While the drug has only been tested in Petri dishes, scientists are excited about rapamycin's potential to treat the condition.

"Part of the problem with aging starts when debris is accumulating in the cells and it's not getting removed, and this particular drug is able to enhance the removal process," said Dr. Dimitri Krainc, lead author of the study.  "It would be too optimistic to say this could completely cure Progeria patients, but we're hoping that this drug could make these kids live longer with fewer complications."

Out of every four to eight million births worldwide, one child will be diagnosed with the condition.

Progeria patients appear healthy at birth, but soon after, parents and doctors begin to see signs of the condition.  Children with the disease are well below the average height and weight for their age.  Their head is disproportionately large for the face, they have a beaked nose, hair loss, a hardening of the skin and stiff joints.

Currently, the average lifespan of a Progeria patient is 13 years old.

"Lifespan can really range from 5 or 6 years to 22 years old," said Dr. Ted Brown, a pediatrician who has spent 30 years researching Progeria.  "In a typical course, by the time a patient gets to be 9 or 10, there is a hardening of the arteries, and they die of heart disease -- heart attack and stroke most typically."

The drug is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an antibiotic to fight rejection in organ transplant recipients.  Because it is already used for certain conditions, Krainc said this may allow for physicians to jumpstart clinical trials to test it as a treatment in Progeria patients.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One Step Closer to Vaccine for Cancer?

Comstock/Thinkstock(ROCHESTER, Minn.) -- Immunotherapy for cancer is based on the idea of stimulating the immune system to recognize and therefore attack and kill cancer cells, just like it would bacteria or a virus. However, the problem hampering the development of an effective vaccine is that insufficient immune system stimulation leads to a weak response which fails to kill the cancer. On the other hand, too much stimulation can turn the immune system into an overactive, indiscriminate killing machine that attacks cancer and normal cells alike.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota conducted a study that has reportedly made a step towards overcoming this problem.

With the intention of creating a vaccine that would teach the immune system about many different signatures of prostate cancer cells, the authors of the study created a virus which carried hundreds of proteins otherwise associated with prostate cancer cells. According to the findings of the study, which were published in Nature Medicine, when mice with prostate cancer were injected with this virus, their immune system recognized the virus as being something dangerous and began to attack it. But, since the virus contained prostate cancer signatures, the immune system also learned to recognize those signatures and then began to attack the prostate cancer. 

Researchers say repeated inoculations with the virus-based vaccine cured 80% of the mice. The vaccine reportedly did not induce an autoimmune response, meaning that the immune system did not start attacking normal, non-cancerous cells.

It is hoped that a similar approach could be taken to create a vaccine for humans with prostate cancer, however, researchers expect that it will take several years before clinical trials can be conducted on humans.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HIV 'Cure' Not a Cure-All, Say Experts

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Victor Maldonado heard German researchers claim they had cured a man of HIV with a bone marrow transplant, he said his reaction was "guarded optimism."

"Everyone is curious and heartened by news about a possible cure, but by no means is anyone swinging from the chandeliers," said Maldonado, who has been HIV-positive since 2005 and works with HealthHIV, a Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS advocacy group. "We've been disappointed too many times."

Medical experts reacted similarly, saying that while the news could potentially lead to more research into new types of treatments, a bone marrow transplant is both risky and impractical.

"Although it may encourage hope that a cure is feasible, this approach in practice cannot be applied to the vast majority of patients," said Dr. Douglas Richman, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California at San Diego.

The "cured" patient also had leukemia, and originally received a bone marrow transplant in 2007. The researchers, led by Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite-Medical University in Berlin, first reported the man's progress at a workshop last summer and published their findings in the current issue of the journal Blood.

But the patient's marrow donor turned out to be a special case. The donor had a mutation that prevented the virus from entering cells. Research has shown that people with this mutation are rarely infected with HIV, but finding such donors is difficult.

"These donor cells are rare. About one in 100 people in central Europe have this mutation," said Dr. Frank Spinelli, who's in private practice in New York.

"We should be clear that this 'cure' will in fact have almost no impact on the average HIV-infected patient," said Bert Jacobs, a professor at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Bone marrow transplants are also inherently risky to patients. A person's own damaged bone marrow is replaced by someone else's, and the marrow donor must be a match, and such matches are difficult to find.

The procedure is also very expensive and potentially dangerous, and with other effective treatments available, it may not be worth the risk.

"The mortality rate is approximately 30 percent when it is used in cancer patients," said Spinelli.

"With modern antiretroviral therapy there is little justification for attempting such a dangerous procedure to cure a disease that is often manageable," said Jacobs.

People living with HIV will also continue to benefit from medications that are generally easy to tolerate and help improve quality of life.

"Antiretroviral therapy has transformed HIV care over the past dozen years and represents one of the major medical accomplishments of the past few decades," said Richman.

Victor Maldonado is grateful for that.

"I'm currently on antiretrovirals, and the drugs work. There's no doubt about it," he said.

Even though he knows the patient in Germany is a rare case, he hopes that research like it will continue.

"Research is the lifeblood for finding treatments and a cure for HIV," he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio