A cure for HIV? It’s feasible, but still some time away

Pearl Mccarthy
March 10, 2019

On Monday, doctors revealed a second patient, called the "London patient", had been off his antiviral medications for 18 months following his bone marrow transplant cancer treatment and had no signs of HIV. In 2013, for example, Rewire.News reported on the cases of two men in Boston who had Hodgkin lymphoma and received bone marrow transplants from donors with the mutation.

All of that seemed to change when in 2008 at the Conference on Retrovirus and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, Massachusetts, the news broke of the Berlin patient, named Timothy Ray Brown, who seemed to have been cured of his HIV. This patient has only been HIV-free for 3.5 months and therefore calls for even more skepticism.

Condoms remain the most widely available and cheap form of HIV prevention.

Although it is generally thought that HIV/AIDS cannot be cured, many patients with the virus can live a mostly normal life with anti-viral treatment that keeps the virus at a low level.

THE government has warned Tanzanians against being loosen their guard, following recent reports from United Kingdom that HIV can be "cured" after a stem cell transplant from a patient proved the disease can be treated. The genetic mutation of CCR5 makes the donor naturally resistant to HIV. In 1997, David Ho of the Aaron Diamond Institute announced that the new crop of anti-retroviral drugs would probably be able to knock out the virus in patients after they continued the regimen for a number of years.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the latest study done in Britain shows the possibility of curing HIV/AIDS through stem-cell transplants and is a ray of hope to those living with HIV. As part of his treatment for leukemia, which is a cancer of the immune system, his immune cells were destroyed and replaced with donor cells with the mutation.

"To find a cure for HIV is the ultimate dream", said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. It also suggests that this is a promising avenue to pursue in our quest for a long-term HIV cure.

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HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People with HIV are sometimes more susceptible to the development of cancers, but only a minority of people living with HIV have cancer.

With three patients becoming HIV-free after undergoing the same type of transplant, this is no longer a coincidence and the word cure flows nearly naturally - but this is by no means a scalable treatment.

Some 37 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV and the AIDS pandemic has killed around 35 million people worldwide since it began in the 1980s. Some viruses have exhibited the natural ability to develop drug-resistance and people not taking antiretrovirals properly can help speed up that process and pass drug-resistant strains to others.

CCR5 receptor is most commonly used by the HIV-1 virus to enter cells.

While it proved to be successful for the Berlin, London, and Düsseldorf patients, the strategy used for these cases are not the way to eradicate HIV on a large scale.

After so many failed attempts at replication, the London patient is giving researchers hope that Brown's case was not just luck.

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