Stem cell transplant shows promise for AIDS treatment

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The first and only other person to be cured of HIV is Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient", who was treated over a decade ago in Berlin, Germany.

Not coincidentally, the stem cells that both patients received in the transplant came from donors with a double set of this rare CCR5 mutation. Doctors searched an global registry to find a donor with a double CCR5-delta-32 mutation who was a good enough match. The mutation has also been found in regions of Europe and Western Asia.

Timothy Ray Brown, the Berlin Patient, had been living with HIV and routinely using antiretroviral therapy when he was diagnosed with a different disease, acute myeloid leukemia.

The patient, known only as "London patient" reportedly prefers to remain anonymous. The circumstances in both cases indicate that people with HIV who have a cancer, and who need a stem cell transplant to treat it, may be cure candidates.

In a case study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature, some scientists believe that the "London patient" has been cured of the viral infection.

"I feel a sense of responsibility to help the doctors understand how it happened so they can develop the science", the "London patient" told The New York Times in an email. "I can't tell you when we'll have a cure that can be useful for everyone but I can tell you were laser-focused on that goal". This week Brown celebrated 12 years free of HIV and was at CROI to hear about the "London patient". Extensive testing of his blood and T cells revealed undetectable HIV.

Usually, HIV patients expect to stay on daily pills for life to suppress the virus.

HIV Pakistan AIDS
Nearly a million people still die every year from AIDS. VOA

However the virus did not return in the London patient's case and there is still no trace of the virus after 18 months off the drugs.

A third patient has reportedly made a successfully transition off HIV medication and is now free of the virus. Haematopoietic stem cells give rise to other blood cells.

Professor Ravindra Gupta at University College London said the man is now off anti-AIDS medication. In addition to chemotherapy, he underwent a haematopoietic stem cell transplant from a donor with two copies of the CCR5 Δ32 allele in 2016. At a conference in Seattle, the United Nations agency leading the global effort to end AIDS said the agency is greatly encouraged by the possibility of an HIV-positive man being cured, but there is still a long way to go.

"While it is too early to say with certainty that our patient is now cured of HIV, and doctors will continue to monitor his condition, the apparent success of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation offers hope in the search for a long-awaited cure for HIV/AIDS", said Olavarria. "It does not do a single thing to prevent transmissions and cure people". "It's reachable", Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, said.

Since 2008, scientists have been trying to replicate the treatment that cured the "Berlin patient" of HIV.

Even more incredible, besides the "London patient", another person, known as the "Düsseldorf patient", has also been off HIV drugs for four months. It will be presented at an HIV conference in Seattle.

Some 37 million people across the globe have HIV. "In our study we saw a prolonged rebound time - suggesting that the transplant itself can reduce the burden of HIV - but adding cells that are resistant makes the difference to go the whole hundred yards".

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