Breakthrough stem cell treatment ‘cures’ HIV man

March 11, 2019

Ten years ago, a Berlin patient allegedly ‘beat’ HIV/AIDs; going into remission after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with natural immunity to the virus.

Now, a male London patient on treatment for cancer has been HIV ‘free’ for over a year. He had undergone chemotherapy and also had stem cells implanted, leading to both his cancer and HIV going into remission. Researchers from University College London (UCL), Imperial College London (ICL), Cambridge and Oxford Universities were all involved in the case, but say it is too early to claim a complete ‘cure’ of HIV.

Prof. Ravindra Gupta from UCL has remarked that the Berlin patient was not an anomaly because the same treatment approaches eliminated HIV in two people. But Prof. Eduardo Olavarria of ICL has cautioned that the treatment used was not an appropriate standard HIV treatment because of the toxicity of chemotherapy.

Dr. Andrew Freedman from Cardiff University has also said that this type of treatment is not practical. Freedman has instead encouraged prompt diagnosis and starting early on lifelong combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) to prevent transmission of the virus, allowing for a near-normal life expectancy for HIV patients.

In HIV/AIDs, CCR5 is the most common receptor by which the virus enters cells. A minority of people have two mutated copies of the CCR5 receptor, where the virus cannot penetrate cells in the body it normally infects.The London patient received donor stem cells with this specific mutation, which made him resistant to HIV. Hence, it is possible to use gene therapy to target the CCR5 receptor.

Prof. Graham Cooke of ICL’s National Institute for Health Research has said that better understanding of why the procedure works in some patients and not others will bring experts closer to the ultimate goal of curing HIV.

Current HIV therapies are effective, so the discovery does not offer new treatment options, but could help in new ways to tackle the disease and achieve a cure.

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Category: Education, Features

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