Advances in stem cell treatment give hope to millions with 'incurable' diseases

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The research team for the London patient will present their findings at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle, Washington.

The London patient received stem cells from a donor with this specific genetic mutation, which made him resistant to HIV as well.

At this point, he has been off of his HIV medication and still in remission for 18 months, according to his doctors, led by Dr. Ravindra Gupta of University College London, in England.

The patient received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor-the second time an adult has been cleared of the AIDS virus in the history of the epidemic.

Doctors have managed to "cure" a man living with HIV. The number of people newly infected with HIV fell to 1.8 million worldwide in 2017, from more than 3 million a year through most of the 1990s.

Nearly 1 million people die each year from HIV-related causes and the only current treatment available is for the affected to take antiretroviral drugs for their entire lives. While the virus was under control, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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Timothy Henrich, a clinician at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has seen HIV bounce back in two patients who had a conditioning regimen that impressively knocked down HIV reservoirs but whose transplants came from donors with working CCR5s. There have been other attempts to discontinue anti-retroviral therapy for HIV+ bone marrow transplant recipients, but in these cases the patient's virus has returned. The man remained on antiretroviral therapy with undetectable viral load until November 2018.

The unidentified man now joins Timothy Ray Brown, also known as The Berlin Patient, the only other person to be cured of HIV. He had leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from someone with the CCR5 protein mutation.

Today, people with HIV are able to live essentially virus-free with a minimally disruptive regimen of pills.

Most experts say it is inconceivable such treatments could be a way of curing all patients.

Both cases involved a risky procedure called a stem-cell transplant (otherwise known as a bone marrow transplant).

Donald Trump tweeted after doctors reported that a second man had been "cured" of HIV through stem cell therapy.

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Gupta described his patient as "functionally cured" and "in remission", but cautioned, "It's too early to say he's cured".

The London patient, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told The New York Timesin an email that learning that his cancer treatment could also cure his HIV infection was "surreal" and "overwhelming". People who have two mutated copies of the CCR5 allele are resistant to the HIV-1 virus strain that uses this receptor, as the virus can not enter host cells.

Graham Cooke, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said in a statement to the Science Media Centre that the new study is "encouraging".

Experts who study AIDS say the success of the Berlin patient and the London patient is very important. For one thing, the rare mutation in this case, a variant of a receptor called CCR5, only blocks one variety of HIV.

"There are actually many strategies right now that are currently being pursued", Henrich said.

The new patient also tells us that we don't necessarily have to be that aggressive when wiping out a person's immune system prior to the transplant.

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