An HIV-positive patient from London might be the second patient in the world to be cured of the AIDS virus after he received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV resistant donor, according to a case study published in the journal Nature.
The HIV infection affects close to 37 million people worldwide and is supposed to be incurable as an attempt to find a decisive medicine which could cure it and attempt to develop a vaccine has not yielded favourable results.
The case is proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, the doctors said but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found.
The new case report comes more than 10 years after the first case, known as the “Berlin patient.” Both patients were treated with stem cell transplants from donors who carried a rare genetic mutation, known as CCR5-delta 32, that made them resistant to HIV. The London patient has been in remission for 18 months since he stopped taking antiretroviral drugs.
“By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people,” said Ravindra Gupta, lead author of the study and a professor in University College London’s Division of Infection and Immunity.
“The method used is not appropriate for all patients but offers hope for new treatment strategies, including gene therapies,” he further added. He and his colleagues will continue to monitor the man’s condition, as it is still too early to say that he has been cured of HIV.
The AIDS pandemic results in the death of almost 1 million people annually. Treatment for HIV involves medications that suppress the virus, known as antiretroviral therapy, which people with HIV need to take for their entire lives.
London’s patients who prefer to remain anonymous was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and began antiretroviral therapy in 2012. Later, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and subsequently remained on antiretroviral therapy for 16 months.
To test whether he was truly in HIV-1 remission, the London patient disrupted his usual antiretroviral therapy. He has now been in remission for 18 months, and regular testing has confirmed that his HIV viral load remains undetectable.
Similarly, Timothy Ray Brown, the Berlin Patient, had been living with HIV and routinely using antiretroviral therapy when he was diagnosed with a different disease, acute myeloid leukemia. After two bone marrow transplants, Brown was considered cured of his HIV-1 infection. Traces of HIV were seen in Brown’s blood a few years after he stopped antiretroviral therapy. However, because HIV remained undetectable, he is still considered clinically cured of his infection, according to his doctors.
Despite various attempts by scientists using the same approach, Brown had remained the only person cured of HIV until the new London patient.
The London patient, whose case will be reported in the journal Nature and presented at a medical conference in Seattle on Tuesday, has asked his medical team not to reveal his name, age, nationality or other details.