Milestone reached as HIV remission achieved in second patient

On World AIDS Day 2018 in Kolkata. ‘London Patient’ has brought excitement but a cure for HIV is still some distance away

"While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system", Badarkhe said.

It's too early to say whether the patient has been "cured".

According to reports, the patient is only the second person ever reported to have been cleared of the virus using this method.

Timothy Ray Brown, the Berlin Patient, had been living with HIV and routinely using antiretroviral therapy when he was diagnosed with a different disease, acute myeloid leukemia. Until now, success in replicating that cure has been limited. In other words, the HIV-1 virus can not exist without normal CCR5 receptors. Experts hope it can eventually lead researchers to a safer and more cost-effective strategy.

Some 37 million people across the globe have HIV.

FILE PHOTO: Buddhist monks light candles during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign on the occasion of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India, December 1, 2018.

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Infection with HIV nearly always led to AIDS, which in turn was nearly always fatal. They're off HIV medications.

"We can't detect anything", said Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist who treated the man, Reuters reports.

Brown, who celebrated 12 years free of HIV at a community cure workshop prior to the conference, said he's happy that another person may finally join him.

Normally, the HIV binds to these receptors and attacks the cells, but a deletion in the CCR5 gene stops the receptors from functioning properly, and after the treatment the team found that the virus had completely disappeared from the patient's blood.

Before yesterday some researchers had posited a third theory: That it was the intense combination of radiation and chemotherapy ahead of the stem-cell transplant that floored the virus. There's also a high risk of infection and death during and after the procedure.

Unlike Brown, the London patient has not yet undergone testing for residual HIV in his gut, brain and other tissues.

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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. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can't fight off infections and disease.

The researchers caution that the approach is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment due to the toxicity of chemotherapy, but it offers hope for new treatment strategies that might eliminate HIV altogether. The inability to find HIV in their blood, coupled with the missing CCR5 receptor, constitutes the HIV viral remission of the London patient announced earlier this week.

Progress has been made towards UNAIDS' 90-90-90 targets for prevention and treatment, but this appears to be stalling and at current rates, the targets will not be achieved by the 2020 deadline, statistics show. Otwoma said although there has been a notable decline in new HIV infections, continued effort is still needed to develop an efficacious, accessible and affordable HIV vaccine. Lower right panel shows that after the stem cell transplant, the patient's immune cells no longer displayed a working CCR5 receptor, which blocks more HIV from entering his CD4 cells.

Reporting that a man has been in remission of HIV for a year and a half after receiving a stem cell transplant without medication increases the likelihood that he is the second person to be cured of the disease. Neither should anyone else.

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

The London patient was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 but did not start to take drugs to control the infection until 2012.

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