UNAIDS Encouraged By Possible Cure of HIV

Grant Boone
March 10, 2019

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

Given recent disappointments after hematopoietic stem cell transplantations in people living with HIV, the team reporting on remission of the London patient does not describe their patient as cured. The London patient, who has chose to remain anonymous, has been off virus-suppressing drugs for 18 months and has no detectable traces of HIV, researchers reported in the journal Nature earlier this week. After three months without taking his antiviral medication, gut and lymph nodes biopsies show no infectious HIV in his body.

And so, cowed by that failure, the research community almost ignored the news that an obscure doctor in Berlin cured a patient, Timothy Brown, using a stem cell transplant, in 2008.

Brown, who had been living in Berlin, has since moved to the United States and, according to HIV experts, is still HIV-free.

Although it is generally thought that HIV/AIDS cannot be cured, many patients with the virus can live a mostly normal life with anti-viral treatment that keeps the virus at a low level. The man was treated by specialists at University College London and Imperial College London for advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2016 using stem cell transplants from a donor who carried a rare genetic mutation.

The donor - who was unrelated - had a genetic mutation known as "CCR5 delta 32", which confers resistance to HIV. 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.

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The case is a proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, the doctors said, but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found.

The CCR5 gene, and the eponymous cell it codes for, nearly certainly play a crucial role in the collateral HIV cure.

A trial on HIV Vaccine by the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) recently showed that it can stimulate the human body to create immunological responses against HIV virus with further research needed now to find a lasting vaccine to the deadly infection.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. 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. UNAIDS is working to ensure that all people living with and affected by HIV have access to life-saving prevention, treatment, care and support services. Instead of having to do not forget to take pills, patients instead could get injections from a doctor or nurse each month. Most HIV uses both the CD4 and CCR5 receptor to enter a person's immune cells.

With three patients becoming HIV-free after undergoing the same type of transplant, this is no longer a coincidence and the word cure flows nearly naturally - but this is by no means a scalable treatment. Though their procedures were different from those the London Patient and the Berlin Patient, this demonstrates that caution is critical when we talk about this as a "cure".

Most importantly, the HIV community learned that Brown's case was not unique.

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