London HIV Patient Becomes World’s Second AIDS Cure Hope

Faith Castro
March 5, 2019

A bone-marrow stem cell transplant has led to a patient with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) going into long-term remission, meaning he might become the second person to be cured of the disease.

The patient voluntarily stopped taking HIV drugs to see if the virus would come back.

The first man called the "Berlin patient" was later revealed to be Timothy Ray Brown, the Washington Post reported.

"While it is too early to say with certainty that our patient is now cured of HIV, and doctors will continue to monitor his condition, the apparent success of stem cell transplantation offers hope in the search for a long-awaited cure for HIV/AIDS", said Professor Eduardo Olavarria of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London.

Nonetheless, future research into how this HIV receptor functions could bring us a lot closer to an eventual cure for HIV, which now infects around 37 million people worldwide. As of now, people who have been diagnosed with HIV have to take antiretroviral medication to suppress the virus for the rest of their lives. "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. That transplant also appeared to clear his HIV infection.

After two bone marrow transplants, Brown was considered cured of his HIV-1 infection. The transplanted immune cells, now resistant to HIV, seem to have fully replaced his vulnerable cells.

The case is a proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, his doctors said, but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found. Later, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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This means the virus can not get into cells in the body that it normally infects.

This was the second time a man was cured of AIDS after receiving stem cells from a donor with a genetic mutation known to resist the killer virus.

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.

"This is a big deal", says Sharon Lewin, who heads the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia. Her group has been working on a way to mutate the CCR5 gene directly in the bone marrow of a person to simulate the effect of the transplants.

After the bone marrow transplant, the London patient remained on ARV for 16 months, at which point ARV treatment was stopped. "But we can try to tease out which part of the transplant might have made a difference here, and allowed this man to stop his anti-viral drugs". Brown and the London patient also suffered from graft-versus-host disease as the transplanted immune systems attacked other recipient tissues as foreign.

This is obviously mind-blowing news, but there's a caveat: most experts agree that it can't be a solution for many HIV patients.

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