May 22, 2019

London HIV patient becomes world's second AIDS cure hope

05 March 2019, 10:40 | Silvia Roy

An Indian nurse carries out a test for HIV AIDS during an event to mark International Condom Day in New Delhi on Feb. 13 2018

An Indian nurse carries out a test for HIV  AIDS

"We haven't cured HIV, but [this] gives us hope that it's going to be feasible one day to eliminate the virus", she said.

This, as reported by the New York Times, is what was discovered when a London patient was examined for traces of the virus after an operation.

Researchers report that a man with HIV, dubbed the "London patient", appears to have been cured of the infection, following a bone marrow transplant.

The London patient has been in remission for 18 months since he stopped taking antiretroviral drugs.

Timothy Ray Brown, aka the "Berlin patient," the only person to be cured of HIV, may finally have company.

Professor Gupta, now at Cambridge University, treated the patient in the United Kingdom capital when he was working at University College London. Almost one million people die every year from HIV-related causes.

The researchers say it's too early to say the patient is "cured" of HIV.

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Later that year, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a deadly cancer.

The only other person to successfully undergo the experimental bone marrow transplant procedure is American Timothy Brown, who is still HIV-free after his treatment in 2007.

The "London patient" told the paper that it was "surreal" and "overwhelming" to learn that he could be cured of H.I.V. and cancer.

Learning that he could be cured of both cancer and HIV infection was "surreal" and "overwhelming", he added.

"This is a big deal", says Sharon Lewin, who heads the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia.

People who have two mutated copies of CCR5 are resistant to most HIV-1 virus strains, frustrating the virus' attempts to enter host cells. "Two factors are likely at play: The new bone marrow is resistant to HIV, and also, the new bone marrow is actively eliminating any HIV-infected cells".

"I think this does change the game a little bit", said Dr. Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at University College London who presented the findings at the Seattle meeting.

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The authors of the study published Tuesday have also said the technique may not necessarily be effective for all HIV-infected individuals, specifically those carrying the gene CXCR4.

The man has chosen to remain anonymous, with scientists referring to him as "the London patient".

That patient's disease was sent into permanent remission using treatment described as aggressive and toxic. But such transplants are risky, can not be used widely and have failed in other patients.

"There are actually many strategies right now that are currently being pursued", Henrich said.

None of this guarantees that the London patient is forever out of the woods, but the similarities to Brown's recovery offer reason for optimism, Gupta said.

One possibility, said Deeks and others, is to develop gene-therapy approaches to knock out CCR5 on immune cells or their predecessor stem cells.

"I am an optimist because I'm a scientist and vice versa", Henrich said.

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