A HIV patient in London is the second person to experience sustained HIV-1 remission. This is according to a case study that was published in the journal Nature. There are scientists who believe that the London patient was cured of HIV, which currently affects about 37 million people around the world.
The Berlin Patient
This comes almost a decade after the first case, which is popularly known as the “Berlin patient.” In both of these cases, the patients were treated with stem cells from donors with rare genetic mutation medically referred to as CCR5-delta 32. This mutation is said to have made them resistant to the viral infection. The London patient stopped taking antiretroviral medication 18 months ago and has been in remission for this period.
Dr. Ravindra Gupta, a professor University College London’s Division of Infection and Immunity said that the second patient is proof that the Berlin Patient was not an accident but a treatment approach that can eliminate HIV. He emphasized that though this particular method cannot be applied in all cases, it offers hope in terms of new HIV treatment strategies and gene therapy. Gupta and his colleague will continue monitoring the condition of the patient since they say it is early to say that he is completely cured.
There are approximately 1 million people who die as a result of HIV causes around the world. Currently, the treatment of HIV involves medications that suppress the virus. The medications need to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life which is why scientists are looking for a cure.
The Patient In Remission
The London patient is a male resident of the United Kingdom who currently prefers to be anonymous. He was diagnosed with HIV back in 2003 and started the antiretroviral therapy in 2012. Later on, the man was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in advanced stage. After going through chemotherapy, he went under a stem cell transplant in 2016 and remained on the antiretroviral medications for 16 months.
He disrupted the usual therapy to test the HIV-1 remission. The patient has now been in remission for 18 months. There have been regular tests that have confirmed that his viral load has remained undetectable all this time.
In a similar case, the Berlin patient was on antiretroviral therapy when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. After going through 2 bone marrow transplants, the patient was considered cured of HIV-1. Though there were traces of HIV in his blood, he was considered clinically cured since the viral load remained undetectable.
Though there have been numerous attempts to use this approach, the Berlin patient has remained the only person cured of HIV until the London patient emerged.
There Is Still More To Be Done For A HIV Cure
Professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Sharon Lewin, who is also the director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said that the long remission observed in the new patient is exciting. She said that the new case is a confirmation that bone marrow transplant from CCR5-negative donors can get rid of the residual virus and eliminate chances of the virus rebounding. The cases show that there are two processes involved. The bone marrow transplant is HIV resistant and is also eliminating the cells that have already been infected.
A professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, Graham Cooke, said that this new case is encouraging. If science can understand why the procedure is successful in some patients and not in others, then we would be closer to a HIV cure. Currently, the procedure is still highly risky especially in cases where the patient is still well and living healthy based on daily tablets.
An associate professor of medicine and physician scientist at University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, Dr. Timothy Henrich, said that this procedure is not yet safe, scalable or even economically viable to achieve remission. The use of the procedure is now limited to patients who are in need to the transplant because of other ailments and not because of HIV.
There are many other strategies that are being followed with some of them being directly linked to the Berlin patient. Though a lot has to be done, scientists are optimistic that a HIV cure is inevitable.Positive Singles