Man 'cured' of HIV

Henrietta Brewer
March 7, 2019

A research paper led by UCL and Imperial College London has reported that a patient treated with stem cell transplant has been in remission from HIV for 18 months and is no longer taking HIV drugs.

Not coincidentally, the stem cells that both patients received in the transplant came from donors with a double set of this rare CCR5 mutation.

While a second patient experiencing HIV viral remission with a slightly less toxic cancer treatment is certainly encouraging progress, an 18-month remission does not equal a cure.

A second person has been cleared of the HIV virus in over a decade after showing signs of long-term remission for the disease according to reports from CNN.

Bone marrow transplants are inherently risky and are considered a last resort treatment, so it is unlikely they could be used en masse to treat HIV patients. Lower right panel shows that after the stem cell transplant, the patient's immune cells no longer displayed a working CCR5 receptor, which blocks more HIV from entering his CD4 cells.

Any story about an HIV cure is bound to stir excitement.

"In Kenya, we have the ongoing HIV vaccine trials, and we look forward to the announcement of preliminary results in the next two to three years", he told People Daily after news of the London achievement dominated news wires across the globe yesterday. Chemotherapy can be effective at fighting HIV because it kills dividing cells.

"Continuing our research, we need to understand if we could knock out this receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy", said Professor Gupta.

"Whilst this type of treatment is clearly not practical for millions of people around the world living with HIV, reports such as this may help in the ultimate development of a cure", said Andrew Freedman, a reader in infectious diseases at Cardiff University in Wales. They had found that northern Europeans descendents possess a genetic make-up that make them immune to HIV infection.

Just like the Berlin patient, Gupta says the British man who is being called the "London patient", also received stem cells from a donor with a rare mutated gene called CCR5. Tests showed that his CD4 T cells now lacked CCR5 receptors. After the transplant the patient developed a resistance to the HIV infection.

"I did not want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV", Brown wrote in a medical journal in 2015, explaining why he chose to reveal his identity. It's also not certain yet whether the London patient will remain HIV-free.

The researchers caution that the approach is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment due to the toxicity of chemotherapy, but it offers hope for new treatment strategies that might eliminate HIV altogether.

"Although this breakthrough is complicated and much more work is needed, it gives us great hope for the future that we could potentially end AIDS with science, through a vaccine or a cure", said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

"In the second theory, you are mixing two immune systems, with your new immune system reacting against your original one", Lewin said.

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