London patient might be second to be cured of HIV

06 Mars, 2019, 06:14 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • London patient might be second to be cured of HIV

The stem cells came from a donor who carried a rare gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV - and doctors were banking on that benefit being transferred to their patient. To do this in others, exact match donors would have to be found in the tiny proportion of people - majority of northern European descent - who have the CCR5 mutation that makes them resistant to the virus.

Sixteen months after the procedure (which notably didn't include radiotherapy, unlike the Berlin patient), the London patient discontinued ARV drugs (aka ART therapy), and has now been in HIV remission for over 18 months. Although the patient has been in remission and has not taken any antiretroviral drugs for 18 months, his doctors say it's still too early to claim he's been "cured". Originally, the aim was to treat cancer-the patient was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2012-rather than HIV.

The fight to beat HIV has been going on for a long, long time. "I think so." He says he believes that some HIV still remains in the London patient's body, but that because his immune system is now impervious to the virus, the HIV is marooned - like a castaway on a remote island who can not swim.

Researchers from eight countries are tracking 45 patients with cancer and HIV who have or will soon have stem cell transplants. "Everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to almost die basically to cure HIV, but now maybe you don't". He will continue to monitor the man's condition, as it is still too early to say, officially, that he has been cured of HIV.

Most experts say it is unlikely such treatments could be a way of curing all patients. "We can't detect anything", Professor Ravindra Gupta told the conference, describing his patient as "functionally cured". A similar identification was given to the first known person cleared of HIV infection more than ten years ago, the "Berlin patient".

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Stem cell transplants typically are harsh procedures which start with radiation or chemotherapy to damage the body's existing immune system and make room for a new one.

Who is the Berlin Patient?

The donor had this double copy of the mutation.

However, now that science has determined that the earlier Berlin patient's HIV cure wasn't merely a unusual fluke, it could open up the doors to new gene-level treatments for the disease.

He received other treatments as well, but by September 2017, he stopped taking anti-HIV drugs and has remained virus free for more than a year, the New York Times reported.

Dr. Gero Hütter, who treated the Berlin patient and is now medical director at Cellex Collection Center in Dresden, Germany, said in an email that the treatment used for the London patient is "comparable" to the one he pioneered. Those patients could benefit if they can find a donor with the rare mutation in CCR5 that protects them from HIV re-infection. 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. But there will always end up being patients with HIV that end up needing a stem cell transplant for unrelated reasons.

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