Could this finally be happening? A cure for HIV? For real?
A single HIV patient in history has ever been cured — an American man named Timothy Ray Brown.
The “Berlin Patient,” as he was known for years, had already been HIV positive for over a decade when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He got a series of stem cell transplants in 2007 and 2008 to replace his immune system as part of his cancer treatment; but his hematologist, a blood cancer specialist named Gero Hutter, had an idea.
He thought to use a donor with the CCR5-delta 32 mutation, an anomaly which makes a small percentage of the population particularly resistant to HIV.
And it worked! Years after the transplant, Brown was determined to have been completely cured of his HIV infection!
Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much about big advancements in the research in quite some time. Only 12 other patients have gotten the procedure since. Remember, to repeat Brown’s success they have specifically been working on patients with cancer AND HIV.
Of those, four are still taking antiviral medication, so it’s unclear if the treatment stopped the virus; eight died from their cancer or from complications in the treatment.
But it looks like, after all these years, there is finally another known case in which the treatment worked; according to a new study by Dr. Ravindra Gupta of University College London, a second patient has been cured!
Just like Brown, this new patient had been living with HIV when he was diagnosed with cancer, in this case Hodgkin’s lymphoma. and got chemotherapy — complete with stem cell transplants from a donor with the CCR5-delta 32 mutation.
The so-called “London Patient” survived the treatment and has been HIV-free for over a year!
Dr. Hutter is pleased, obviously, calling it “more evidence that the ‘Berlin patient’ is not a sole exception.” He explained:
“After the ‘Berlin patient’ there was a controversy which part of the treatment was responsible for the cure from HIV. Was it the transplantation procedure, was it the CCR5 , was it immune reaction, or was there something special, unique in the patient?”
So now they have TWO sets of data to cross-reference, a huge step forward.
Unfortunately there is a lot more research to be done. As it stands, both men had to go through very dangerous transplants, which can often themselves be fatal, to find their cures. They even both survived graft-versus-host disease, another potentially deadly worry for transplant patients.
So again, this will not be a readily available “cure” anytime soon, if ever.
But it’s hope.
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