Second person cured of HIV in major medical breakthrough

HIV cell under a microscope

Second person cured of HIV in major medical breakthrough

Reuters reports that the man, whose identity has not been revealed, has tested negative for the virus nearly three years after he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with an HIV-resistant genetic mutation.

Both patients received stem cell transplants from donors carrying a genetic mutation that prevents expression of an HIV receptor, known as CCR5.

For only the second time, doctors have announced they have "effectively cured" a patient with HIV using stem cells, sending the virus into "sustained remission". People with two copies of the Δ32 mutation of CCR5 gene are resistant to HIV-1 infection. The procedure successfully replaced the patient's white blood cells with the HIV-resistant variant.

A cure for HIV does not exist, but medications known as anti-retroviral therapy or ART can significantly slow the illness's advance, potentially extending patients' lives by decades.

The first sustained remission survivor, announced in 2009 as "the Berlin patient" and later named as American Timothy Brown, was given two transplants and underwent total body irradiation to treat leukaemia - a process that almost killed him.

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.

Calling the London patient "cured" is tricky, Gupta said, because there is no standard definition for how long someone must remain free of virus and off treatment drugs. Stem-cell transplant was carried out in this patient for treatment of a form of leukaemia that was not responding to treatment. "While more than 21 million take drugs that keep them alive and reduce the spread, an estimated 1.8 million people were newly infected in 2017".

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The mutation that gives a person HIV resistance is incredibly rare, only appearing in a tiny fraction of the population. To treat the cancer, the London patient agreed to a treatment called a stem cell transplant. Like the London patient, Brown had cancer - in his case, leukemia - and was cured of both sicknesses with a bone marrow transplant, TheNYT reported. Unlike Brown, the London patient has not yet undergone testing for residual HIV in his gut and other tissues.

Most experts say it is inconceivable such treatments could be a way of curing all patients.

With the right kind of donor, his doctors figured, the London patient might get a bonus beyond treating his cancer: a possible HIV cure. Essentially, the mutation prevents HIV from being able to get inside people's cells, so it can not cause infection.

The London patient, whose case was set to 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. One possibility would be to alter the CCR5 gene, and thus compromise one of HIV's most prominent entry points into human cells.

AIDS researchers have known about the this CCR5 mutation for years and have tried to think of ways to exploit it as a treatment for HIV.

However, news that a second person may have been "cured" demonstrates that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly.

"With regular testing, condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the fact that people on effective HIV treatment can not pass on the virus, we have the ability to completely prevent new HIV transmissions".

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