A man from London is being said to be free from the AIDS virus. The person, known as the “London patient”, had leukemia and underwent a stem cell transplant to treat cancer. The donor’s cells had a protein which is supposed to combat the HIV virus.
Timothy Ray Brown, from the USA, was the first man who was treated in Germany and is originally known as the “Berlin patient”. He is still free of HIV even after 12 years of the treatment. Until now, Brown was the only person known to have been cured of infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Brown is the only person in the history who went through two successful stem cell transplants and when asked about the same, post this second victorious treatment, he said, “I knew I was the only person cured of HIV at that point and I didn’t want to be the only person“.
How does it work?
CCR5 is the most commonly used receptor by HIV to enter the cells. But a very small number of HIV resistant people have two mutated copies of the CCR5 receptor, called delta-32 mutation. This mutation stops the virus to penetrate cells in the body that it normally infects.
The London patient received stem cells from a donor with this specific genetic mutation, which made him resistant to HIV as well. But even after the treatment, cells carrying HIV can still remain in the body, in a resting state, for many years.
The Doctors’ verdicts:
According to the doctors, treatments like stem cell transplant are difficult, dangerous and have failed in other patients. They’re also impractical to try to cure the millions of people worldwide who are infected with HIV.
“The latest successful operation shows that the cure of Timothy Brown was not just a matter of chance or luck and can be repeated”, said Dr.Keith Jerome of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle. He added that it could generate a simpler formula that could be used more widely.
Dr. Rowena Johnston, who oversaw the research at the Foundation for AIDS Research, said that this is a really exciting news.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the person who is in charge of government HIV research, cautions: “This approach is unsafe, unsuitable and not scalable”, meaning it could not be replicated among many patients. But, he points out that it may have pertinence in future attempts to use gene editing to treat AIDS.
The latest patients are part of a research project which has so far enrolled 45 patients with cancer and HIV, who have received or will receive stem cell transplants.