The patient, whose identity was not disclosed, stopped taking antiretroviral drugs 16 months after the transplant, and the virus has not been detected during an additional 18 months, according to the study.
The key is finding a bone marrow donor with mutated CCR5 proteins, which prevent HIV from entering cells in the immune system, effectively "curing" HIV. The London patient, who has made a decision to remain anonymous, has been off virus-suppressing drugs for 18 months and has no detectable traces of HIV, researchers reported in the journal Nature earlier this week.
The result, reported at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, United States of America, is one of only two cases of reported functional cures for HIV.
In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown, 52, formerly referred to as the "Berlin patient", was named as the first man cured of HIV. According to the doctors who treated the man, he was diagnosed with an HIV infection in 2003. However, being off of antiviral drugs and HIV-free is still a promising accomplishment, even if more time is necessary for proper confirmation.
Although it is generally thought that HIV/AIDS cannot be cured, many patients with the virus can live a mostly normal life with anti-viral treatment that keeps the virus at a low level. The genetic mutation of CCR5 makes the donor naturally resistant to HIV. 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. The idea is that the transplant would replace cells damaged by disease, infection, or chemotherapy with healthy cells from a donor, essentially allowing patients to rebuild their immune systems. Getting shots at a clinic can lend more privacy to patients anxious about the stigma of filling an HIV prescription at a pharmacy, said Dr. Susan Swindells of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, who presented results Thursday at an HIV conference in Seattle. Scientists are describing the condition as a long-term remission, but the news has given hope for a cure. When HIV-infected individuals are compliant with the prescribed use of the AIDS cocktail, their viral load is undetectable and they become untransmittable, meaning they can not sexually transmit the HIV virus to others.
The man received bone marrow from a donor with a rare mutation, like "Berlin" and "London" to patients.
This is indeed an exciting finding after 10 years of not being able to replicate the original case, but it doesn't offer up a new treatment for the upwards of 37 million around the globe living with HIV, as this aggressive therapy was primarily used to treat both patient's cancer, however it does offer a starting point.
There are now around 37 million people living with HIV worldwide, and the virus claims around 1 million lives annually. HIV uses the protein to enter the cell, but it can not attach to the mutated version. Yes, these new drugs hopefully have less side effects to extend the life long use of expensive pharmaceuticals by all people living with HIV, but they are not a cure.
After so many failed attempts at replication, the London patient is giving researchers hope that Brown's case was not just luck.