Second man seems to be free of AIDS virus after transplant

Alicia Farmer
March 7, 2019

A patient diagnosed with HIV and treated with stem cell transplant has been in remission for 18 months after his antiretroviral therapy (ARV) was discontinued, according to a press release Tuesday posted on the website of the University of Cambridge.

Both the first patient to be cured of H.I.V., Timothy Ray Brown, who is now 52 and was cured in 2007, and the new patient, whom scientists refer to as the "London patient," were afflicted with forms of cancer and were given bone-marrow transplants meant to treat their cancers, not the H.I.V virus, according to The New York Times.

Gupta said the method used is not appropriate for all patients but offers hope for new treatment strategies.

HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the man, Ravindra Gupta, said that it's too early to say whether he is officially cured of the disease, but did go as far as saying he was "functionally cured" and "in remission". Until now, Brown is the only person thought to have been cured of infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"At the moment, the only way to treat HIV is with medications that suppress the virus, which people need to take for their entire lives", said Gupta.

In 2012, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"I did not want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV", Brown wrote in a medical journal in 2015, explaining why he chose to reveal his identity.

The therapy had an early success with Timothy Ray Brown, a U.S. man treated in Germany who is 12 years post-transplant and still free of HIV.

"Today's news is a welcome development for many people living with HIV, but we must not take our eye off the ball in ensuring we use the tools we already have that can help us towards zero new transmissions".

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Doctors said that recent tests showed no trace of the man's previous HIV infection. "Patients are being monitored to see how well they do and how well they continue to do", says Dr. Rosenthal.

Stem cell transplants are an established treatment for the cancer.

The breakthrough comes 10 years after the first such case, known as "The Berlin Patient". He believes translation of the approach into gene therapy could work - though it has not yet been proven - and if so, it could become an option for a large number of HIV patients.

"The concept of a cure for HIV is really being able to remove the virus", David Rosenthal, DO, PhD, medical director of the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent, and Pediatric HIV at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, who was not involved in the London patient's care, tells Health.

Sharon Lewin, an expert at Australia's Doherty Institute and co-chair of the International AIDS Society's cure research advisory board, told Reuters news agency the London case points to new avenues for study.

The transplant was complicated by a mild case of graft-vs-host disease, which is similar to the first patient to achieve HIV remission.

Stem-cell transplants are expensive and risky, because they involve wiping out a patient's immune system with powerful drugs or radiation and then reconstituting it.

The Berlin patient's cure was one of magnificent serendipity.

HIV experts said the importance of a second "cure" can't be underestimated.

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