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Bone marrow transplant fights AIDS?

December 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Could a bone marrow transplant keep HIV from turning into AIDS?Ten years ago, doctors told Loring Leeds to get his affairs in order, he wouldn't have long to live.

"I had AIDS related lymphoma. I was in the fourth stage of cancer then," said Leeds.

Although chemotherapy got his cancer in remission, the AIDS virus was still attacking his body. Loring Leeds became one of the first HIV patients to enroll in a bone marrow transplant study that was controversial at the time.

"Back then the medical community really didn't believe people with AIDS could benefit with a transplant, much less survive one," said Leeds.

The goal is to make the cells in his bone marrow HIV resistant. Now nearly a decade later, the levels of AIDS virus in his blood are characterized an "undetectable."

"That's really what's behind this. Make their system immune to the HIV virus that has already infected them," said Dr. Amrita Krishnan, City of Hope.

Dr. Krishnan and her colleagues at the City of Hope just completed the latest clinical trial on five HIV patients with cancer.

In this study, HIV patients had their bone marrow harvested and genetically re-engineered with three anti-HIV proteins that block HIV from entering into new cells.

The result is each of the patients who got the transplant are replicating the genetically altered HIV resistant stem cells.

"If you look down the road the hope would be somehow you can get stem cells without subjecting them to these kinds of doses without chemotherapy," said Dr. Krishnan.

Loring's participation in clinical trials ten years ago appear to be paying off today. He gives all the credit to researchers.

"I'm happy to know them and happy to help them with what they're doing," said Leeds.

The City of Hope just presented their study to the American Society of Hematology.

Again, the next step will be to apply this approach to AIDS patients without cancer. Once they do that, Dr. Krishnan says genetic therapy for HIV could become a reality.


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