London | A patient in Britain is HIV-free, doctors announced this week in what appears to be an astounding case. It's only the second time this has been accomplished, despite many attempts over more than a decade.
While the success of the approach does not offer a cure, the researchers say, it does offer hope for one.
Compared to Mr. Brown's treatment, who almost died due to intense complications, the London Patient's treatment was less intense.
Researchers dubbed the original patient cured of HIV "the Berlin patient", though he was later revealed to be Timothy Ray Brown, a 52-year-old man who now lives in California. He remains free of HIV today. About 37 million people around the world have the viral infection. Both Brown and the London patient are testament to how effective such strategies in modifying CCR5 can be in thwarting HIV. But no medical team had managed to replicate this healing process for other patients.
The new case, the "London patient", was diagnosed with HIV in 2003, and put on antiretrovirals in 2012. Later, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma. After standard treatments failed, they gave the patient a stem-cell transplant - essentially killing off his old immune system and giving him a new one.
In 2016, he received a transplant of haematopoietic stem cells from a donor carrying a genetic mutation in the HIV receptor CCR5, which hinders the HIV virus from entering human cells. The giver - or donor - had a natural resistance to HIV. However, because HIV remained undetectable, he is still considered clinically cured of his infection, according to his doctors. Post-treatment Brown stopped taking drugs but the virus has still not returned. After 18 months of remission, this person no longer needs anti-retroviral treatment.
However, Gupta described his patient as "functionally cured" and "in remission", rather than "cured".
The important point here is that it had been assumed that there might be something special about the Berlin patient, but now "we know it is reproducible", said Hütter, who was not involved in the London patient's treatment.
However, news that a second person may have been "cured" demonstrates that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly. A second, less common form of HIV, could still cause infection despite a transplant like this.
However, future investigation into how the CCR5 receptor functions could pave the way for an eventual HIV cure.
AIDS researchers have known about the this CCR5 mutation for years and have tried to think of ways to exploit it as a treatment for HIV. It is a proof of concept that may prove valuable. Akin to the first patient to report such an event, this individual was also a recipient of a hematopoietic stem cell transplant. "While more than 21 million take drugs that keep them alive and reduce the spread, an estimated 1.8 million people were newly infected in 2017".
Nearly 1 million people die each year from HIV-related causes and the only current treatment available is for the affected to take antiretroviral drugs for their entire lives.