The second person since the global outbreak of HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, has been ‘cured’.
The news, announced on the 5th of March, comes over a decade after the first person to be considered in long term remission from the virus.
The people who investigated the case will present some of the details of their report at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, the same conference where in 2007 a German doctor announced he had cured the first patient ever of HIV.
Since this first announcement of a cured patient, doctors have tried to replicate the same results on other HIV positive patients with cancer, but failed each time. This marks the second success ever.
The London patient, who remains unnamed, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and advanced Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2012.
Similar to Timothy Ray Brown, the first man cured, the London patient’s remission seemingly came after a bone marrow transplant intended as a treatment for his advanced form of cancer.
The patient received stem cells from a donor who is naturally resistant to the HIV virus whilst also undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer.
The transplant took place in May 2016 and the patient stopped taking anti-HIV drugs in September 2017.
He has since been in remission from HIV for 18 months, making him the first patient since Mr Brown known to remain virus-free for over a year after quitting the drugs.
Scientists are hesitant to call the process that succeeded for both these men a cure, however, referring to it simply as providing the patient with a long-term period of remission.
“This will inspire people that a cure is not a dream, it’s reachable.”
It is hard to define the treatment as a cure when looking only at two cases of success.
Whilst a bone marrow transplant is unlikely to be a viable cure for everyone, many people around the world who are diagnosed as HIV positive are still able to live long and healthy lives thanks to the powerful drugs that have been developed.
Nevertheless, it does give hope that a more accessible cure that works for the millions of people afflicted with the virus is possible and coming at some point in the near future.
As Dr Annemarie Wensing, a virologist, said: “This will inspire people that a cure is not a dream, it’s reachable.”
The London patient’s case has also confirmed that massive amounts of destruction to the immune system is not necessary for the procedure to work as a treatment for the virus.
When the original Berlin Patient, Timothy Ray Brown, was undergoing treatment he suffered severe complications for months after the bone marrow transplant and was placed into a medically induced coma.
The doctors who treated him have since wondered whether this amount of severe devastation to his immune system was why the cure worked for him, but no one else.
The London patient proved this hypothesis incorrect.
The treatment after his transplant was much less intense, and in line with current standards for transplant patients, whereas Brown was on harsh immunosuppressive drugs that are no longer used.
Dr Ravindra Gupta, one of the virologists who presented the findings at the Seattle conference stated that “this does change the game a little bit, everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to nearly die basically to cure HIV, but now maybe you don’t.”
What is HIV?
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system, specifically your T Cells, and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
This can lead to those afflicted with HIV developing AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) if left untreated.
The virus can be treated and controlled using antiretroviral therapy or ART.
This, when taken the right way, can dramatically prolong the lives of people infected with HIV.
HIV is spread through only certain activities, most commonly through sexual behaviours and needle or syringe use.
It is impossible to get HIV through any sort of casual contact, such as hugging, shaking hands, or using public toilets.
Similarly, it cannot be transmitted via saliva as only certain bodily fluids can transmit the virus – including but not limited to blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
As of 2017, 36.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and of that number, 1.8 million were under the age of 15.
Only 59% had access to antiretroviral therapy, a number which has increased every year since 2010.
Since their peak in 2004, AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by more than 51% as of 2017.
Below is a number of websites for more information about HIV and AIDS regarding its transmission, treatment, and history: hiv
By Robbie Nichols