Yes. It’s true. Another person is now free of the dangerous HIV disease after undergoing a stem cell transplant. The Lancet HIV revealed on Tuesday that the second ever person to be cured of HIV is still free from the virus after more than 30 months after stopping the antiretroviral therapy following a stem cell, or bone marrow, transplant to treat a type of blood cancer.
Adam Castillejo, 40, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and had been on medication to keep the disease in check since 2012. He was known as the “London patient “until he decided to reveal his identity. Originally from Venezuela, who made it to the headlines when researchers at Cambridge University informed that there was no trace of the virus causing AIDS in his blood for 18 months. He also had blood cancer.
Timothy Brown, also known as the “Berlin patient“, the first person to be cleared of the virus, underwent a similar treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia. Both underwent chemotherapy, but Brown had to undergo radiotherapy too as a part of his treatment.
Ravindra Gupta, a lead author of the study published in The Lancet HIV, said the new test results were “even more remarkable” and likely demonstrated the patient was cured. Castillejo’s treatment was a “last resort” as his blood cancer would probably have killed him without intervention, according to Gupta.
How does it work?
CCR5 is a commonly used receptor by HIV-1, the virus strain of HIV that prevails around the world to enter cells. There are a small number of people who are resistant to HIV as they have two mutated copies of the CCR5 receptor. This means that the virus cannot penetrate the cells in the body it infects in general.
Researchers also said that it could be possible to use gene therapy to target the CCR5 receptor in people with HIV.
Is it a permanent cure?
Even though the cure was done in cases where patients had cancers, applying the same with others is still not verified.
Gupta also added that researchers are currently weighing up whether or not patients suffering from drug-resistant forms of HIV might be eligible for stem cell transplants in the future. Moreover, he further said that stem cell transplants were not suitable for most people with HIV, as it included dangerous and invasive procedures that carried risks.
Nonetheless, Gupta said, the new findings were significant. “It is the second case of a cure. It means the first one wasn’t an anomaly or a fluke.”
Sharon Lewin, an infectious disease expert at the University of Melbourne and a member of the International AIDS Society, said Castillejo’s case was “exciting.”
“But we also need to place it in context – curing people of HIV via a bone marrow transplant is just not a viable option on any scale,” she said. She also noted that the absence of a virus, in this case, was exciting and encouraging, but it is time which tells us whether he is truly cured.” It looks promising,” she mentioned in an article linked to the paper.
An ambassador for hope
After being cured, Castillejo wanted to reveal his identity. He said that his experience had motivated him to come forward and identify himself in order to spread awareness.” I want to be an ambassador of Hope. I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, you’ve been chosen.’ No, it just happened. I was in the right place, probably at the right time, when it happened.”, he said.
This is a unique position to be in, a unique and very humbling position,” he told The New York Times. “I want to be an ambassador of Hope.” He also wanted others to be optimistic and thus lead a happier life.