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London man becomes second in world to be cured of HIV

Published on 05/03/19 at 10:24am

A man in Britain has become the second person in the world to be ‘cured’ of HIV, after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with natural resistance to the virus.

The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is being called the London patient, in part due to the similarities he shares with the Berlin patient, Timothy Brown, the first person known to be cured of HIV.

Almost three years after receiving bone marrow stem cell transplants as a treatment for leukaemia, doctors believe the London patient is free of HIV.

“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything,” said Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist who was part of a team of doctors who treated the man.

Having contracted HIV in 2003, the London Patient was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.

After chemotherapy had failed, the London patient received bone marrow transplants from a donor carrying a mutation in the protein CCR5. The mutation prevents HIV from entering the cells and thus gives those who have it natural immunity to HIV.

It is believed that around 1% of people have some form of resistance to HIV. The mutation is more common in those of Northern European descent.

In recent news, the CCR5 protein was the subject of controversy after Chinese scientist He Jiankui altered the gene in an effort to prevent unborn twins from contracting HIV.

The case of the London patient comes twelve years after that of the Berlin patient, both of whom received bone marrow from donors with the CCR5 mutation.

“By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly, and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people,” Gupta said.

"At the moment the only way to treat HIV is with medications that suppress the virus, which people need to take for their entire lives, posing a particular challenge in developing countries.”

“Finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly difficult because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host.”

Louis Goss

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