Wednesday 16 October 2019

HIV patient's remission raises hopes cure can be found for deadly illness

‘Berlin patient’: Timothy Brown was cured of HIV over a decade ago. AP Photo/Manuel Valdes
‘Berlin patient’: Timothy Brown was cured of HIV over a decade ago. AP Photo/Manuel Valdes

Shoko Oda

A stem-cell treatment has put a London cancer patient's HIV into remission, marking the second such reported case and reinvigorating efforts to cure the Aids-causing infection which afflicts some 37 million people globally.

The patient has been in remission for 19 months, the International Aids Society said.

However, that is too soon to label the treatment - which used haematopoietic stem cells from a donor with an HIV-resistance gene - as a cure, researchers have said in a study in the journal 'Nature'. Haematopoietic stem cells give rise to other blood cells.

An embargo on the paper was lifted due to early reporting of the finding. 'The New York Times' said the latest surprise success confirms that a cure for HIV infection is possible. University College London researchers made the announcement at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle this week.

Acute myeloid leukaemia patient Timothy Brown, who became known as the 'Berlin patient', was treated aggressively more than a decade ago in an HIV-curing approach which hasn't been successfully repeated until Professor Ravindra Gupta and colleagues showed the effectiveness of a less aggressive form of treatment.

Prof Gupta's case was in an HIV-positive man with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma who received a transplant of haematopoietic stem cells from a donor with two copies of the so-called CCR5 gene mutation - the same one allegedly edited by Chinese researcher He Jiankui that led to the birth of the world's first gene-edited babies last year.

"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," said Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne.

"The London patient has now been off ART for 19 months with no viral rebound which is impressive, but I would still be closely monitoring his viral load," said Ms Lewin, co-chair of the International Aids Society's 'Towards an HIV Cure' initiative.

The London patient has no detectable HIV virus, Prof Gupta and colleagues said. "We speculate that CCR5 gene therapy strategies using stem cells could conceivably be a scalable approach to remission," they said.

Scientists at IciStem, a consortium of European scientists researching use of stem cell transplants to treat the illness, say the London patient received a bone-marrow transplant in 2016 and was given immuno-suppresive drugs. He stopped taking his HIV medication in September 2017.

Irish Independent

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