For only the second time in the history of the AIDS pandemic, a patient with HIV in London seems to have been freed of the virus after a bone marrow transplant.
Approximately twelve years ago, the so-called “Berlin Patient,” Timothy Brown, was the first AIDS patient to be “cured” of the disease, also due to a bone marrow transplant. Researchers have tried ever since to replicate those results, to no avail.
The London patient (who chooses not to be identified) received a bone marrow transplant as a treatment for cancer. The donor had a rare mutation of the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter cells. This mutation renders one resistant to HIV. After the transplant, the London patient ceased taking his HIV medications eighteen months ago but has remained virus-free.
Investigators published their findings today, March 5, 2019, in the journal <Nature> and will present their findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle on this date.
Prof. Ravindra Gupta, University College London and lead author of the paper on the successful treatment of the London patient, said the way to a cure could be editing the CCR5 gene. “What this second case says is this is a bona fide research target and probably the most promising we have for any HIV cure,” he said, according to The Guardian.
Gupta continued, “It’s important because there are 36 million people with HIV worldwide. The aim is to get everybody on treatment for the rest of their lives and that’s a huge undertaking both for drug delivery but also making sure people can stay on medication for decades. There is a cost issue for developing countries,”
Experts warn that bone marrow transplantation is probably not going to be a realistic treatment option any time in the near future because of the high costs of the procedure and the severe risks involved. Bone marrow transplants carry harsh side effects that can last a very long time. But modifying the body’s immune cells to resist HIV might succeed as a practical treatment.
“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and co-leader of a consortium of European scientists studying stem cell transplants as a treatment for HIV, supported by AMFAR, told the New York Times. “It’s reachable.”
–Reporting by Hank Trout