After decades of research and multiple case studies a London man has been freed of the virus that causes AIDS after receiving a stem cell transplant, according to doctors, this is the second time they have seen these results.
Previous to the recent success of treatment with Timothy Ray Brown, a U.S. man who was being treated in Germany, 12 years later after the transplanted is still healthy and free of HIV.
The success is a massive step for medical advancement, normally a transplant of this nature is extremely dangerous, and doctors are well aware that the cure will not be able to heal the millions that are infected entirely.
Dr. Keith Jerome of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle expresses how it is clear that the transplant, “shows the cure of Timothy Brown was not a fluke and can be recreated,” he also explained how it could eventually lead to a more fundamental approach that could be administered to more people.
During an HIV conference in Seattle on Tuesday the case study, which was initially published Monday by the journal Nature was presented in front of thousands.
The first healed subject sat front and center before he stood for a round of applause while shaking hands with lead researcher Ravindra Gupta of University College London.
Gupta led the presentation by explaining the steps they took and the process that came with it. He noted that the London patient had not been identified, he was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and started to medicate to control the infection in 2012. Though it is unclear why the man waited so long to start any treatment. Within a year the patient developed Hodgkin lymphoma and had decided to begin stem cell transplant to fight cancer in 2016.
Doctors figured that with the right kind of donor the London patient not only could treat his cancer but also receive a possible cure for HIV.
As they hoped for the doctors found a donor with a gene mutation that gives off natural resistance to HIV. Only around 1 percent of people descended from northern Europeans have inherited this mutation from both parents and are immune to most HIV infections, and the donor had just that!
Shocked Gupta said, this has been “an improbable event, that’s why this has not been observed more frequently.”
Because of the mutation, the transplant had changed the Londons patients immune system, giving him the same variation and HIV resistance as the donor.
However, after the successful transplant, the patient had voluntarily stopped taking all his HIV drugs to see if the virus would resurface. It is typical for HIV patients to stay on daily pills for the rest of their life to keep the virus at bay. Usually, when people stop taking the drugs, the virus comes back violently within two to three weeks.
Though this did not happen with the London patient, in fact, there is still no trace of the virus after 18 months.
The case study is just one of many; researchers from around the world are tracking 45 patients with cancer and HIV who are in line to receive the stem cell transplant. For example, one of the patients is a Dusseldorf, Germany, man, who shows no signs of HIV months after he stopped taking the standard HIV drugs, though it is way to early to tell if he also is on the path to remission.
Despite there significant success with the London patient, Gupta said that calling the patient completely “cured” is complicated since the standard definition for how long someone should remain free of the virus and off any treatment drugs. “We are cautious” to call it remission for the moment, he emphasized.
Brown hopes that the London patient will share his story with the public because, “it’s been beneficial for science and for giving hope to HIV-positive people, to people living with HIV,” he said in a press conference Tuesday.
Typically, stem cell transplant is painful procedures that start with radiation or chemotherapy, which damages the body’s existing immune system to make room for a new healthy one. However, experts have had some complications. Brown revealed that he had to receive a second stem cell transplant when his leukemia came back.
Unlike Brown, the London subject had a more relaxed form of chemotherapy to prepare for the transplant. He didn’t have radiation and reported only mild side effects after the operation.
Dr. Gero Hutter, the German doctor who worked with Brown, declared the new case “great news” and “one piece in the HIV cure puzzle.”
Mr. Brown is hopeful that the London patient’s cure is as significant as his own. “If something has happened once in medical science, it can happen again,” Mr. Brown told The New York. “I’ve been waiting for company for a long time.”
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