Scientists Say HIV Has Been Cured in Second Patient Ever

Pearl Mccarthy
March 10, 2019

A second person is in sustained remission from HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, after ceasing treatment and is likely cured, researchers were set to announce at a medical conference Tuesday.

The CCR5 gene was thrust into the worldwide spotlight recently by the revelation that a Chinese scientist had attempted to edit human embryos to create the same deletion, with the hopes of creating babies that were immune to HIV.

Brown remains uninfected as far as scientists can tell, and no HIV has been detected in the London patient's blood for 18 months, save for one blip of viral DNA that researchers studying the man suspect was a false signal.

Testing over the past 18 months have shown no traces of HIV in the man's system, and the case matches that of the first documented case of HIV being cured back in 2007. CCR5 is the most commonly used receptor by HIV-1.

Researchers from eight countries are tracking 45 patients with cancer and HIV who have or will soon have stem cell transplants.

"This is a long time to be in remission off ART, so this is exciting", infectious diseases expert Sharon Lewin from the University of Melbourne, who wasn't involved with the study, explains.

Now, an global team of scientists led by Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University College London, reports a second patient has been in remission for three years following a similar procedure.

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Only one other patient who has been cured from HIV is Timothy Ray Brown from Berlin. As of 2017, there were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. Most people with HIV respond well to daily antiretroviral treatment. His drug regiment was much less harsh than the only other known patient who was cured of HIV.

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

Although a bone-marrow transplant cannot be a standard treatment for HIV, doctors can use what they learn in these special cases to try to develop new treatments that could be used by more people, Adalja said. NAM aidsmap provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

After HIV-resistant cells from the transplant replaced the men's vulnerable cells, both men stopped taking the ARV therapy that had been suppressing their infections. But the virus can't attach itself to the mutated form.

The London Patient was given stem cells from a donor with genetic resistance to the disease. A variety of "reservoirs" of HIV-infected cells has been identified; all of the significant ones appear to be in immune cells of one type or another. He said simply, "I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime". The scientists say the treatment strategy is not practical as a standard approach for the millions now living with the illness. "But I think that every year we get a little bit closer to the ultimate goal, and cases like this I hope will continue to excite and inform the community". Nearly one million people die annually from HIV-related causes, researchers said.

The new case, the "London patient", was diagnosed with HIV in 2003, and put on antiretrovirals in 2012. These therapies have radically altered the lives of infected people, turning a often-lethal virus into something that can be managed for decades.

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