Medicine

London HIV patient becomes world's second AIDS cure hope

London HIV patient becomes world's second AIDS cure hope

The stem cells he received to cure his cancer came from a donor with a mutation in CCR5, a receptor that lets HIV into white blood cells.

Now, an worldwide team of scientists led by Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University College London, reports a second patient has been in remission for three years following a similar procedure.

While some medical experts remain skeptical as to whether this second case study is definitely a "cure", others - including Timothy Ray Brown, the "Berlin patient" who remains clear of the virus more than a decade later - said it offers a glimmer of hope that a cure for HIV could be within reach.

But there was something unusual about the person who gave the London patient stem cells.

Pozniak was commenting in the aftermath of the news that a London patient appears to have been cured of HIV after a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a special genetic mutation.

While some commentators are calling this a "cure" for HIV, the scientists who performed the experiment say it's too soon to say that. Essentially, the mutation prevents HIV from being able to get inside people's cells, so it can not cause infection. The London patient ultimately had no option but to try the experimental treatment when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2012.

Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist, took charge of the team of doctors treating the man in question.

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The International AIDS Society said in a statement Tuesday that results from the second patient "reaffirm our belief that there exists a proof of concept that HIV is curable". This indicates that other patients, in the same circumstances, should, where possible, receive transplants from a donor with this same gene mutation.

The case, published online on Monday by the journal Nature, involved researches from UCL, Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge. The scientists say the treatment strategy is not practical as a standard approach for the millions now living with the illness.

Researchers dubbed the original patient cured of HIV "the Berlin patient", though he was later revealed to be Timothy Ray Brown, a 52-year-old man who now lives in California. Scientists are following 38 people with HIV who've received transplants. "Everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to almost die basically to cure H.I.V., but now maybe you don't".

The CCR5 gene was thrust into the worldwide spotlight recently by the revelation that a Chinese scientist had attempted to edit human embryos to create the same deletion, with the hopes of creating babies that were immune to HIV. The gene is known to create a protein that is crucial for HIV to invade blood cells. But with the mutated CCR5, Brown's immune cells became molecular fortresses that HIV couldn't penetrate - which meant the transplant essentially cured him of his infection.

This is the second time a person has been cleared of HIV following a bone marrow transplant from a donor with this genetic mutation.

There are important limitations to applying the findings of the London patient to a HIV cure, said Anthony Kelleher, director of the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.