London Patient cleared of HIV raises hope for cure

Henrietta Brewer
March 6, 2019

To learn more about the factors that favor a cure, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, a New York City-based foundation, in 2014 began to fund a consortium of worldwide researchers who do transplants in HIV-infected people with blood cancers.

The case is proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, the doctors said, but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found. They're also impractical to try to cure the millions already infected.

The case was published online by the journal Nature and will be presented at an HIV conference in Seattle.

"Finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly hard because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host", Gupta explained.

With the right kind of donor, his doctors figured, the London patient might get a bonus beyond treating his cancer: a possible HIV cure.

According to Professor Gupta, the London patient was HIV-positive since 2003, before he was diagnosed with blood cancer Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2012. Other attempts had failed.

"This is the second reported case of prolonged remission off antiretroviral therapy post bone-marrow transplantation from a CCR5-negative donor", International AIDS Society President Anton Pozniak said in the statement.

But it also effective against cancer because the new "graft" cells work better against the disease.

Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, stated, "This will inspire people that cure is not a dream".

The new patient also tells us that we don't necessarily have to be that aggressive when wiping out a person's immune system prior to the transplant.

Usually, HIV patients expect to stay on daily pills for life to suppress the virus.

The therapy had an early success with Timothy Ray Brown, a USA man treated in Germany who is 12 years post-transplant and still free of HIV. "Secondly, naturally resistant and compatible bone marrow donors are rare because of the need for donor recipient matching".

Blood cells of an infected person are replaced by someone who is immune to HIV through a genetic mutation which stops the virus attaching to cells. These efforts include editing the CCR5 gene in HIV-positive people and giving the genetically edited cells back to them.

The exact treatment used here is unlikely to be repeated widely. But Brown nearly died by the end of the treatment. The new patient, treated by doctors in Europe and nicknamed "the London patient" for anonymity, mirrors a similar case from over a decade ago, which scientists have spent years trying to replicate.

After the bone marrow transplant, the London patient remained on ARV for 16 months, at which point ARV treatment was stopped.

"I would like to meet the London Patient". She/he/ze seems to have followed the same recovery path as Mr Brown all those years ago after their treatments. "So many things have happened that I thought were out of our realm of possibility", he says.

Timothy Ray Brown's HIV cure may no longer be unique.

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