A cure for HIV? It’s feasible, but still some time away

Desiree Burns
March 10, 2019

Biopsies from his gut and lymph nodes have shown no infectious HIV following a bone marrow transplant, and three-and-a-half months off antiviral drugs, Annemarie Wensing of the Netherlands-based University Medical Center Utrecht, who worked on the case, told the outlet.

Earlier this week, doctors from the United Kingdom said "the London patient", which had also undergone a bone marrow transplant from a donor with the same mutation.

The man, who was not identified, was diagnosed with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - in 2003, according to the findings published by the journal Nature.

The announcements come a decade after Timothy Brown, a patient in Berlin, became the first person to "beat" HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant in 2007.

The transplant changed the patient's immune system, giving him the donor's HIV resistance.

"Besides, there are different subtypes of HIV, which require different coreceptors to produce an infection", he said.

However, experts are enthusiastic about the promise that the cure of the London patient showed. It is not sustainable, because the CCR5 genetic mutation is also extremely rare, and it is present only in less than 5 percent of individuals born of European dissent. These cases are still significant as they can help experts develop new ways to fight the virus and find a cure, especially since a new drug resistant form of HIV is a growing concern. Chemotherapy was used to treat the cancer, and stem cells were implanted from a donor resistant to HIV, which has lead to his current condition of being in remission from both HIV and cancer. Existing bone marrow and the body's immune system are wiped out through extensive radiation therapy, and either the cancer roars back and kills the patient, the bone marrow transplant fails or the host vs. donor foreign tissue rejection reactions kills the patient.

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Scientists have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS for close to 40 years.

It is noted that bone marrow transplantation cannot be applied for HIV-positive patients who do not have cancer. He was soon proven wrong, when scientists discovered that the virus is very good at hiding from part of the immune system called memory T cells. Add to this that only about one percent of Caucasians are CCR5 negative-this being a mutation that only appears in European bloodlines-and it quickly becomes apparent that we can not feasibly use stem cell transplants to make every person with HIV enter remission.

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

After so many failed attempts at replication, the London patient is giving researchers hope that Brown's case was not just luck.

Harvard AIDS researcher Bruce Walker said that if you talk to people who are taking HIV medications, they desperately want to get off them. Lastly, the marrow donors had a particular mutation which eliminated HIV's ability to attach to host cells.

He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.

"The reason we know that this appears to be effective is that these people are no longer taking their anti-retroviral agents - which stops the virus from replicating - but nevertheless using very sensitive approaches, the virus can not be detected in their body at present".

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