There is so much optimism around Dr. Gero Hutter's 2007 procedure that the city of San Francisco gave the German doctor a proclamation. Three years ago, Hutter treated a HIV-positive man for leukemia using stem cells from a matched donor.
The donor was also immune to the HIV virus, which meant he did not have the CCR5 protein.
The protein helps the HIV virus attach itself to a healthy cell, therefore infecting it, but without CCR5, the virus can't hold on. The new cells from the donor helped the patient's body defeat the AIDS virus.
Hutter says today the patient is HIV-free.
"Surprisingly, we found 60 days after transplantation, was the last time that we had evidence of HIV in the patient," said Hutter.
The case sparked great interest from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- the state stem cell agency.
"And suddenly there is excitement because this is a way that we could use stem cells to potentially cure HIV," said Jeff Sheehy, a board member.
Dr. Jay Levy, M.D., of UCSF is a leading expert in HIV research.
"If we can eliminate that attachment site, which is called CCR5, the virus will not be able to enter the cell," said Levy.
The stem cell agency is funding two studies that focus on cutting off the CCR5 gene.
Similar research already underway offers a treatment but not a cure.
"Where we can take T-cells through a blood draw, go in and clip the CCR5 gene from those T-cells, expand that pool of T-cells and then re-infuse them in the hope of giving patients an immune system that is now immune to HIV infection," said Jacob Lalezari, M.D., from the Quest Clinical Research.
One of the two stem cell studies will be done at Sangamo Biosciences in Point Richmond using the latest technology in gene therapy.
"The goal of both applications is to be ready for phase one clinical trials at the end of four years," said Sheehy.
The proclamation at City Hall was issued at the request of the AIDS Policy Project, an organization of people with HIV and AIDS activists pushing for more AIDS cure research and funding.
The two teams involved in the stem cell studies are City of Hope led by John Zaia, M.D. That study is using the genetic engineering technique at Sangamo BioSciences. The other team is led by Irving Chen, Ph.D. AT UCLA.