London Patient Might be Second-Ever Cured of HIV

Has a second person with HIV been cured?

Nearly three years after receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resistsHIV infection - and more than 18 months after he came off antiretroviral drugs - highly sensitive tests still show no trace of the man's previous HIV infection.

The London patient, whose case was set to be reported in the journal Nature and presented at a medical conference in Seattle on Tuesday, has asked his medical team not to reveal his name, age, nationality or other details.

The scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission publically, while most experts are calling it a cure, the paper reported.

"The Berlin patient also had two rounds of chemotherapy because the first one didn't work". The "Berlin patient", who was later identified as Timothy Ray Brown, had leukemia and wasn't responding to chemotherapy.

As far as scientists can tell, eighteen months he received his intervention, the London patient is still completely free of HIV.

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He added: "There is no virus there that we can measure. HIV is like high blood pressure; we can control the symptoms, but we can't remove the cause". In other words, something about this person's body made it impossible for him or her to become infected with the HIV virus.

The Berlin patient's cure was one of magnificent serendipity. So, the cost benefit of the prognosis following a bone-marrow transplant versus that on HIV antiretroviral therapy needs serious consideration. Notably, neither treatment was originally meant to eliminate the infection itself, but to treat blood cancers that had spread in both individuals. Her group has been working on a way to mutate the CCR5 gene directly in the bone marrow of a person to simulate the effect of the transplants. This case may in time lead to the development of therapies that have less risk and a greater chance of successfully leading to HIV remission.

"What we're talking about with a bone marrow transplant is getting rid of someone's immune system and giving them back someone else's immune system", says Dr. Rosenthal. At one point, Brown had to be placed in an induced coma and almost died. In both instances, the patients received a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer. He was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2012. Like Brown, this patient also received immunosuppressive drugs after the transplant. The new report shows that doctors don't have to use as intense a treatment regime as the Berlin patient underwent in order to achieve success. However, researchers ruled it is too early to definitively say whether the individual - deemed the "London patient" - has been cured.

According to experts, Brown has been living in the United States, and is still free of the disease.

"Medications used to be much more hard and have higher side effects", says Dr. Rosenthal. Any sign of the virus remains undetectable. In fact, the virus did not rebound quickly, but it eventually did, at 12, 32 and 41 weeks, respectively, for the three.

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"I think this does change the game a little bit", Gupta opined to NYT of the new patient, who had less invasive treatment than Brown.

"We really don't know what the long-standing significance of this is", says Dr. Rosenthal.

Any story about an HIV cure is bound to stir excitement.

Ravindra Gupta notes that the donor's unusual resistance to HIV may not be the only reason the treatment cleared the London patient's infection.

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