Second Man In The World Considered Cured of HIV
By Sofy Robertson
A London man has become the second known adult in the world to be apparently cured of HIV since the global epidemic began decades ago, sparking hope for a potential cure for AIDS.
For the second time in history, doctors appear to have put the infection into “sustained remission” using a bone marrow stem cell transplant. (STAT News)
Doctors confirmed that recent tests showed no trace of the man’s previous HIV infection. The milestone occurred around three years after the man received bone marrow stem cells from an HIV-resistant donor and approximately a year and a half after coming off antiretroviral drugs. The patient received the bone marrow transplant for cancer.
The case, which was published in Nature, may encourage scientists to work on new gene therapies based on similar principles and offers hope of a cure for AIDS to those living with the infection.
The man has chosen to remain anonymous with scientists referring to him as “the London patient”. Ravinda Gupta, an HIV biologist who helped treat the man warned that it is “too early to say he’s cured”. (Huffington Post)
This case comes nearly ten years after Timothy Ray Brown, known at the time as “the Berlin patient”, became the first person to be functionally cured of HIV. He was able to stop taking antiretroviral drugs after an intensive round of chemotherapy, radiation and two bone marrow transplants.
Following Brown’s case, scientists tried to copy the result with other HIV-positive cancer patients. The London patient, who had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is the first adult to be cured of HIV since Brown.
Dr. Keith Jerome, one of the leaders of HIV cure research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center explained:
“Those of us in the field have been waiting for a second cure via this approach. As long as Timothy Brown was the only [one], we’d have always wondered if there something unique about it.” (STAT News)
The decades-long HIV epidemic still persists worldwide, with nearly 39,000 new diagnoses in the US alone on 2017. Approximately 37 million people worldwide are living with HIV and the AIDS virus has killed around 35 million people since its outbreak in the 1980s.
Experts warn that this news should not be interpreted has having found a cure for everyone with HIV. Dr. Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute, a research institute affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard and MIT, stated:
“It doesn’t change things for the average person with HIV right now. It does change things in terms of the research agenda, because it further indicates that this is a potentially viable pathway forward to achieve a cure.”
Dr. Walker also warned:
“The virus may still be hiding out someplace and it may come back 10 years from now. You can never be absolutely certain that a cure has been achieved.”
Despite this, Dr. Jerome cites the meaningful nature of this case, even if it is an uncertain cure:
“It’s a reminder about how difficult this challenge is and how difficult this virus is to deal with, but at the same time, it provides hope.
“Now there’s not one, but two people that others living with HIV can look toward for encouragement.”