Stem cell transplant offers hope for an HIV cure

07 March, 2019, 00:56 | Author: Andrea Terry
  • London man becomes second in world to be cured of HIV

A stem-cell treatment put a London cancer patient's HIV into remission, marking the second such reported case and reinvigorating efforts to cure the AIDS-causing infection that afflicts some 37 million people globally.

Mr Brown underwent similar treatment to the "London patient" in Germany in 2007, which also cleared his HIV.

In what would only be the second time in medical history, an HIV patient appears to have been cured of the disease thanks to a bone marrow stem cell transplant. More recently, researchers reported that a bone marrow transplant recipient in Minnesota had viral remission lasting almost 10 months after an analytic treatment interruption, but he too ultimately experienced viral rebound.

But the current news "does teach us a great deal about the HIV virus and how we can possibly create other ways to eradicate it", says Dr. Rosenthal.

Timothy Henrich, a clinician at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has seen HIV bounce back in two patients who had a conditioning regimen that impressively knocked down HIV reservoirs but whose transplants came from donors with working CCR5s.

Although the finding is exciting, it is not offering up a new treatment for the millions of people around the world living with HIV.

He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and received a bone marrow transplant in May 2016 from a donor who had a mutated form of the CCR5 protein.

Researchers are developing better antiretroviral treatments, prevention methods, and vaccines to halt infections while continuing to pursue a cure for those already infected.


Prof Eduardo Olavarria, also involved in the research, from Imperial College London, said the success of stem cell transplantation offered hope that new strategies could be developed to tackle the virus.

"I think that one thing we've learned is finding a scalable, economically feasible cure, or HIV remission, is going to be hard", said Timothy Henrich, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

The transplant was relatively uncomplicated, but with some side effects including mild graft-versus-host disease, a complication of transplants wherein the donor immune cells attack the recipient's immune cells. "After a ten year gap it provides important confirmation that the "Berlin patient" was not simply an anomaly".

The report will be published today (March 5) in the journal Nature. There are now 37 million people infected with HIV, 21 million are on antiretroviral treatment, but drug-resistant strains are becoming more widespread.

Hopes that a cure will be available to all any time soon are misplaced though. This week Brown celebrated 12 years free of HIV at a community cure workshop prior to the conference.

"We can't detect anything", said Ravindra Gupta, a biologist who worked with the team of doctors treating the London patient, adding that the patient has been "functionally cured".

A new report surfaced saying a man who is HIV positive is now remission after receiving a bone-marrow transplant.

"Common to both approaches is the presence of a modified gene in our immune system - CCR5 - that is necessary for HIV infection", Kelleher said in a statement.

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