Second patient reportedly cured of HIV in big milestone for AIDS treatment

A stem cell research facility is seen in this undated

A stem cell research facility is seen in this undated

Timothy Ray Brown, cured of cancer and HIV and also known as the Berlin patient, attends the amfAR and GBChealth event, "Together to End AIDS". He was given a transplant of hematopoietic stem cells from a donor with two copies of a mutation relating to CCR5-a protein on the surface of white blood cells plays a role in the immune system.

Nearly three years after receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection - and more than 18 months after coming off antiretroviral drugs - highly sensitive tests still show no trace of the man's previous HIV infection. Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist who co-led one of the teams treating him, said: "There is no virus there that we can measure".

While the patient had been in remission from HIV for 18 months, scientists said it was too early to say the man had been "cured". This genetic mutation is HIV-resistant. The investigators plan to publish their report on Tuesday in the journal Nature and are to present some of the details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, the Times reported.

CCR5 is also the gene that Chinese researcher He Jiankui tweaked in embryos to give them a genetically-engineered resistance to HIV infection throughout their lifetimes.

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While two individuals appear to have been cured of HIV, there are still thousands living with the virus, including these three HIV-positive activists.

"If I have Hodgkin's disease or myeloid leukaemia", he said, "that's going to kill me anyway, and I need to have a stem cell transplant, and I also happen to have HIV, then this is very interesting".

"The Berlin patient" aka Timothy Brown was the first adult in the world to be declared HIV-free. "Some of them are directly related to the Berlin patient and work with transplantation: for example, gene modification therapy". That might have had the ironic benefit of further reducing HIV reservoirs, Lewin says.

Following the announcement, doctors not involved in the case said it was a step forward toward finding new treatments for HIV.

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Despite various attempts by scientists using the same approach, Brown had remained the only person cured of HIV until the new London patient.

In the meantime, he said the focus needed to be on diagnosing HIV promptly and starting patients on lifelong combination antiretroviral therapy.

Bone-marrow transplants could have harsh side-effects that last years, not to mention a much higher risk of developing cancer.

Nonetheless, future research into how this HIV receptor functions could bring us a lot closer to an eventual cure for HIV, which now infects around 37 million people worldwide. Finding ways to treat people infected with HIV with some infusions of mutated CCR5 cells that block infection seems to make more sense now.

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The patient, who prefers to remain anonymous, remains HIV-free to date. The new report shows that doctors don't have to use as intense a treatment regime as the Berlin patient underwent in order to achieve success.

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