Second HIV remission ignites hope for cure

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The therapy had an early success with Timothy Ray Brown, a USA man treated in Germany who is 12 years post-transplant and still free of HIV.

The reason these specific bone-marrow transplants seem to be capable of curing HIV is that both donors had a genetic mutation in a protein called CCR5 that made them more resistant to a common kind of HIV, the kind both men had. The patient ceased taking medication to treat HIV in September 2017 and has been in remission since. Almost one million people die annually from HIV-related causes. He underwent the bone marrow transplant and later was declared free of HIV. He was diagnosed with the cancer in 2012. Because of these risks, stem cell transplants haven't been considered a treatment option for HIV patients.

The new patient who may also have been cured has Hodgkin's lymphoma and lives in the UK.

The most promising way to end HIV in the U.S., experts say, is to manage infected patients' viral loads with drugs, and to prevent the disease from spreading to more people.

The vast majority of HIV virus strains use the CCR5 molecule, or receptor, as the port of entry into human cells.

With immunosuppressive drugs and repeated bone marrow transplants, the treatment ultimately worked.

Brown sat in the front row, stood for a round of applause and shook hands with lead researcher Ravindra Gupta of University College London after Gupta presented details on the London patient.

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"The Berlin patient also had two rounds of chemotherapy because the first one didn't work".

Not coincidentally, the stem cells that both patients received in the transplant came from donors with a double set of this rare CCR5 mutation.

Using bone marrow transplants to cure HIV in everyone who has the virus, though, remains impractical, expensive, and risky.

CCR5 was the target in the genome of the controversial gene-edited twins born past year in China, whose father is HIV-positive.

Gupta was careful to mention that this type of stem cell treatment is not appropriate for all HIV patients but still offers hope for the possibility of new strategies, including gene therapies.

Prof Graham Cooke, National Institute for Health Research research professor and reader in infectious diseases from Imperial College London, said the results were "encouraging".

The first person thought to be cured of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was an American man named Timothy Brown, previously known as "the Berlin patient", who received a bone-marrow transplant in 2007 to help treat his aggressive leukemia. NAM aidsmap provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

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"We've always wondered whether all that conditioning, a massive amount of destruction to his immune system, explained why Timothy was cured but no one else", AIDS expert Dr. Steven Deeks, who has worked with Brown medically, told NYT.

As far as scientists can tell, eighteen months he received his intervention, the London patient is still completely free of HIV.

"It does give them some superpower, in the sense of being protected from CCR5 -using HIV", Milush said.

It is the second time a patient has ended up in remission from HIV.

The case marks only the second time ever that doctors have used this particular treatment to seemingly eliminate the virus from a person's body.

"There are actually many strategies right now that are currently being pursued", Henrich said.

The Berlin patient's cure was one of magnificent serendipity.

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"I am an optimist because I'm a scientist and vice versa", Henrich said.

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