Doctors in Berlin are reporting that they cured a man of AIDS by giving him transplanted blood stem cells from a person naturally resistant to the virus.
But while the case has novel medical implications, experts say it will be of little immediate use in treating AIDS. Top American researchers called the treatment unthinkable for the millions infected in Africa and impractical even for insured patients in top research hospitals.
"It's very nice, and it's not even surprising," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But it's just off the table of practicality."
The patient, a 42-year-old American resident in Germany, also has leukemia, which justified the high risk of a stem-cell transplant. Such transplants require wiping out a patient's immune system, including bone marrow, with radiation and drugs; 10 to 30 percent of those getting them die.
The chances of finding a donor who is a good tissue match for the patient and also has the rare genetic mutation that confers resistance to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are extremely small. Nonetheless, the man has been free of the virus for 20 months even though he is not using antiretroviral drugs. The success in his case is evidence that a long-dreamed-of therapy for AIDS — injecting stem cells that have been genetically re-engineered with the mutation — might work.
The cure was announced Wednesday by Dr. Gero Huetter and Dr. Eckhard Thiel, blood-cancer specialists at Charite Hospital in Berlin. The case was described last week in the Wall Street Journal.