U of M docs attempt to cure boy of HIV, leukemia

8:02 AM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Doctors at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital are attempting to cure a boy diagnosed with both HIV and leukemia.

If successful the 12-year-old, whose family does not want him identified, would be only the second person in the world to be cured of HIV.

"I think this is extraordinary," said Dr. John Wagner, Pediatric Cancer Specialist. "The implications are tremendous. We could be treating so many more patients because of the unique capacity of umbilical cord blood."

On Tuesday, the boy had a bone marrow transplant, a procedure many leukemia patients get, but in his case, the procedure was done using cord blood.

"It's infused intravenously," Dr. Michael Verneris, a U of M Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Specialist said."It circulates his body and finds the inside of his bones on its own and the stem cells lodge in there and start making blood."

The new blood created is immune to the HIV virus, meaning that a three ounce dose could create healthy blood in the boy's body and ultimately make history.

"The donor that they found has a very unique mutation in the set of cells that HIV infects, so these cells that we are putting into the patient cannot get infected with HIV," said Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Tim Schacker.

Timothy Ray Brown, known as the "Berlin Patient" was the first person to be cured of HIV. He has been HIV-free since his bone marrow transplant in 2007.

But since cord blood is easier to match to a patient than adult bone marrow, like Brown was given, Tuesday's procedure is more promising, especially since the genetic mutation is so rare. 

"This genetic change that we talked about, which gives you resistance to HIV, is only present in about one-percent of the population," said Verneris.

The U of M is a world leader in cord blood transplants, which would also be good news for the U of M if the procedure works. Doctors say it will be about two to three months before they know if the boy is cured of HIV.

If it's a success, Timothy Ray Brown said he will be celebrating because it will be much tougher for people to consider his case a fluke.

"I believe that this will mean that HIV in fact can be cured," he told KARE 11 over the phone from his home in Las Vegas.

Brown called the boy on Tuesday after the procedure. Dr. Wagner was there during that call. 

"Timothy actually said, 'I may be patient No. 1, but I hope to have patient 2 next to me in the not too distant future.'" Wagner responded, "And we hope so too."

The boy's mother issued a statement saying, "This is the beginning of a new chance for me to have a healthier kid. I am thankful for the University of Minnesota giving him the chance to live."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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