Doctors hopeful new procedure could cure boy of HIV

The AIDS virus has hideouts deep in the immune system that today's drugs can't reach. Now scientists finally have discovered how HIV builds one of those fortresses - and they're exploring whether a drug already used to fight a parasite in developing countries just might hold a key to break in.

April 25, 2013 2:57:56 PM PDT
Minnesota doctors are experimenting with a new procedure they hope will lead to a cure for HIV and leukemia.

The patient involved is a 12-year-old boy.

Though the experimental surgery is promising no guarantees, his surgeons are encouraged, and say if successful this boy would be only the second person in the world to be cured of HIV.

His identity is being kept a secret, but doctors say the 12-year old boy travelled a long distance to undergo this groundbreaking procedure. They describe him as a basketball fanatic who inspires them to succeed.

"We're giving this child a real shot, a real chance," Dr. Michael Verneris said.

The goal is to save his life by curing his leukemia and HIV. The concept goes back to 2007 and Timothy Ray Brown, who was known as the Berlin patient and is now cured of HIV.

"So we have Timothy Brown number one and we hope that this is patient number 2," Dr. John Wagner said.

The procedure involves the world's first cord blood transplant, which uses blood extracted from the placenta after a baby is born. The cells are so special less than one percent of us have them.

"If they don't have the right landing gear if you will for HIV to get into the cell so they theoretically can't be infected with HIV," Dr. Tim Schacker, director, HIV Clinic, UM.

Cord blood is easier to match than adult marrow, giving the U of M team hope that though it's momentous, this is only a stepping stone.

"It's really wonderful to think that perhaps we are part of history and we're watching and making this happen," Dr. Verneris said.

"We don't accept what it is today as that's how it's always going to be, we want to change the practice of medicine and we think this is a major step forward for patients," Dr. Wagner said.