U of M Doctors Hope to Cure 12-Year-Old of HIV

Posted at: 04/23/2013 6:36 PM
Updated at: 04/24/2013 6:16 AM
By: Naomi Pescovitz

A team of University of Minnesota doctors are trying to make history and save a 12-year-old's life. On Tuesday they completed a risky but landmark procedure, hoping to cure a boy of HIV and a form of leukemia.

In a 30 minute process, doctors infused blood from an umbilical cord into the boy's bloodstream. The blood carries a rare genetic mutation that makes cells immune to HIV. The mutation is so unique that it occurs in less than one percent of the population.

"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," said Dr. Tim Schacker, professor of medicine and Director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at the University of Minnesota.

Only one other patient has been cured using this type of procedure, using adult bone marrow. Known as the "Berlin Patient," Timothy Ray Brown was treated in 2007.

"So we have Timothy Brown number one, and we hope that this is patient number 2," said Dr. John Wagner, Director of the University of Minnesota Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

Cord blood is easier to match than adult marrow, so the U of M teams hopes this procedure will be a steppingstone for the future.

"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 with HIV," Wagner said.

"It's really wonderful to think that perhaps we're part of history and we're watching and making this happen, it's great. And most importantly, is that we're giving this child a real shot, a real chance," said Dr. Michael Verneris, an associate professor of pediatrics and a leukemia therapy expert at the University of Minnesota.

The 12-year-old boy is from out of state and is a basketball fanatic. His mother released the following statement:
"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."

See more of our interview and get more information on the procedure here.