Medicine

Cancer leads scientists to discover cure for HIV

Cancer leads scientists to discover cure for HIV

Though the experts are excited with results, they remained conservative about the current capabilities of replicating the "cure" since tens of millions of people affected by HIV worldwide.

The doctors selected a donor who had two copies of a particular mutation in the CCR5 gene that prevents HIV from infecting T-cells, a part of the immune system where the virus takes hold and does its damage.

However, most of the patients have died due to the cancer, side effects of the transplant, or saw a return of the virus after quitting antiretroviral drugs.

The London patient underwent the transplant in May 2016, and in September 2017, stopped taking antiretroviral drugs.

That was "an improbable event", said Gupta.

"There was no virus that we could measure". After two bone marrow transplants, Brown was considered cured of his HIV-1 infection.

Yet there may be another reason to be cautious about the London patient's potential remission.

"This case tells us that there is no magic conditioning regimen", Lewin says.

Compared to Brown, the London patient had a less punishing form of chemotherapy to get ready for the transplant, didn't have radiation and had only a mild reaction to the transplant.

The researchers say the latest findings show that Brown's case was not a one off, and that there are ways to target the CCR5 receptor to treat HIV.

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The new case, the "London patient", was diagnosed with HIV in 2003, and put on antiretrovirals in 2012. The London patient is one of 40 in the study.

The London patient is only the world's second person to go into remission from HIV. "Durable engraftment" of the CCR5 mutants is key to a cure, he concludes.

Scientists have tried, and repeatedly failed, to duplicate the success they had in curing Brown. Certain HIV antibodies and proteins declined in the blood of both men, she points out, which might offer a helpful early indicator of whether a cure strategy is working prior to stopping ARVs.

"This second documented case does reinforce the message that HIV cures are possible", says infection and immunity researcher Anthony Kelleher from UNSW in Australia, who wasn't involved with the study.

Scientists are looking at finding a way to inject a patient with modified immune cells that can resist the HIV virus. He believes translation of the approach into gene therapy could work - though it has not yet been proven - and if so, it could become an option for a large number of HIV patients.

He's being the only one thought to have been cured of HIV.

The news about the London patient also encourages Paula Cannon at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The researcher added that while the stem cell transplant technique was not a universal treatment for everyone, it could contribute to the development of other methods that would help to eliminate the virus in people's bodies.

"If I have Hodgkin's disease or myeloid leukaemia", he said, "that's going to kill me anyway, and I need to have a stem cell transplant, and I also happen to have HIV, then this is very interesting".