Published: Thu, March 07, 2019
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Second man seems to be free of AIDS virus after transplant

Second man seems to be free of AIDS virus after transplant

It's been a year and a half since then, and there's still no sign of HIV, despite tests having screened an estimated 24 million individual T cells. The patient has been in remission for 18 months despite not having taken anti-retroviral medications, indicating that the intervention might have cured the disease.

An HIV-positive man in the United Kingdom has officially become the second person in the world to be cleared of the Aids virus.

HIV experts said the importance of a second "cure" can't be underestimated.

The patient from London has not been named, and was first diagnosed with HIV in 2003, as well as advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2012.

During chemotherapy treatment for cancer, stem cells were implanted into the man from a donor resistant to HIV, which lead to both his cancer and HIV going into remission.

Gupta, now at Cambridge University, treated the London patient when he was working at University College London.

As far as scientists can tell, eighteen months he received his intervention, the London patient is still completely free of HIV.

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Twelve years ago, for the first time ever, an HIV-infected patient was considered cured by his doctors, the man's name is Timothy Ray Brown, he is now 53 and lives in California.

Researchers are developing better antiretroviral treatments, prevention methods, and vaccines to halt infections while continuing to pursue a cure for those already infected. It was a similar approach to that used on Timothy Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient", who remains HIV-free today after treatment in Germany in 2007.

Ravindra Gupta notes that the donor's unusual resistance to HIV may not be the only reason the treatment cleared the London patient's infection. Currently, there are powerful and effective drugs available to control HIV infection with few or no side-effects. He waited about nine years after being diagnosed with HIV to start anti-HIV drug therapy.

Understanding how the body can naturally resist the infection does offer up hope of this, even if it is still a long way off.

The London patient is said to have undergone a similar treatment to Mr Brown by receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor. This case may in time lead to the development of therapies that have less risk and a greater chance of successfully leading to HIV remission. "We need to understand if we could knock out this (CCR5) receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy", he said. Brown had received two similar transplants to treat his leukemia; his donors were intentionally chosen because they not only matched him, but they also harbored genetic mutations that made their cells almost impervious to HIV infection. Because it's a virus, it can't replicate on its own, but instead needs to co-opt the machinery of another cell in order to reproduce, so it can only replicate when it infects other cells.

Graham Cooke, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said in a statement to the Science Media Centre that the new study is "encouraging".

But he said much longer follow-up would be needed to ensure the virus did not re-emerge at a later stage. As of 2017, there were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. "We're fortunate now in that we can have many patients treated with one pill, once a day".

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