"There is no virus there that we can measure," HIV biologist Ravindra Gupta told Reuters of the man in question, who was previously diagnosed HIV positive

By Jen Juneau
March 05, 2019 11:02 AM
Red ribbon for HIV/AIDS awareness
Spukkato/Getty

A patient in London who was previously diagnosed as HIV positive is showing no sign of the virus today, doctors say, making him the seemingly second person ever to be cured of the AIDS virus.

Reuters reports that the British man underwent a transplant from a bone-marrow donor who has a rare genetic mutation, CCR5 delta 32, that resists HIV. And now, a year and a half after he last took antiretroviral medications, the London patient is no longer showing signs of the virus.

“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything,” HIV biologist Ravindra Gupta — one of the doctors who treated the man — told Reuters.

Gupta went on to tell the outlet that the patient was “in remission” and “functionally cured”; however, “It’s too early to say he’s cured” completely, said the doctor.

Vial of blood
A blood sample being held with a row of human samples for analytical testing including blood, urine, chemistry, proteins, anticoagulants and HIV in lab

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The London-based patient becomes the second individual ever to be seemingly cured of HIV over a decade after the first: Timothy Ray Brown, AKA the “Berlin patient,” who almost died after his treatment, according to The New York Times. Brown, now 52, had leukemia and underwent two bone marrow transplants, being placed in an induced coma following his treatment before eventually recovering.

“We’ve always wondered whether all that conditioning, a massive amount of destruction to his immune system, explained why Timothy was cured but no one else,” AIDS expert Dr. Steven Deeks, who has worked with Brown medically, told NYT.

“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. “Everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to nearly die basically to cure HIV, but now maybe you don’t.”

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CNN reports that the London patient, who has chosen anonymity, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and began taking antiretroviral drugs nine years later. He then underwent a bone-marrow transplant in 2016 after receiving a diagnosis of advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, initially having been treated with chemotherapy.

Brown’s bone marrow donor also had the CCR5 mutation — something Dr. Sharon Lewin (a professor of medicine and director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, who was not involved in the London patient’s treatment) told CNN is “exciting” given the remission period of the new patient compared with Brown’s case.

“Coming 10 years after the successful report of the Berlin Patient, this new case confirms that bone marrow transplantation from a CCR5-negative donor can eliminate residual virus and stop any traces of virus from rebounding,” she said. “Two factors are likely at play: The new bone marrow is resistant to HIV, and also, the new bone marrow is actively eliminating any HIV-infected cells.”

Speaking with CNN, Dr. Timothy Henrich of the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine — who wasn’t involved with the study — said of the new findings that “I do have hope” and “I think that finding a scalable cure that is safe and can be applied to a vast majority of individuals living with HIV is definitely attainable, but we have a lot more work to go.”

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