According to the publication from RedlionTrader, a second man infected with HIV seems to have been cleared of the infection, those scientists remain highly cautious of touting the case as a cure.
The man in question, known to the press only as the London patient (an obvious nod to the earlier 2007 “Berlin patient,“ Timothy Ray Brown, the first to be cleared of HIV), developed cancer following a 2003 HIV diagnosis. It was a form of advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For several years, the London patient received antiretroviral therapy, a typical course of treatment involving the use of multiple medications to control and manage the progression of HIV. In 2016, the patient underwent chemotherapy and received a bone marrow transplant from a donor who carried a CCR5 negative genetic mutation. This mutation provides a natural resistance to HIV by preventing the virus from entering cells in the immune system.
The Temptation of Transplants
A similar course of treatment cleared the Berlin patient of HIV over a decade ago. Both men received antiretroviral therapy, followed by chemotherapy and CCR5-negative marrow transplants. Combined, these techniques seemed to lower presence of the infection in both men to nearly undetectable levels.
Scientist think similar techniques could be used to treat more than 70 other diseases, including various cancers and genetic disorders. However, bone marrow transplants are very physically demanding and risk-intensive. Even if they don’t have HIV, patients hoping to receive a marrow transplant from a disease-resistant donor would have to undergo a sustained period of radiation or chemotherapy to, in essence, destroy their natural marrow. Only then can the disease-resistant marrow be transplanted.
Scientists are excited at the potential for a “HIV cure“, a lofty idea in medicine that has been abandoned for some time following the development of effective HIV-management medication. However, the risky nature of marrow transplants, combined with lack of available donors, makes many hesitate to promote the treatment as an option to others. Both the London and Berlin patients only received bone marrow transplants because they had been diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer. Such a procedure has yet to be prescribed on the basis of HIV infection alone.
Regardless, the headline has many in the HIV and rare disease community excited. Future research into the techniques used to clear the London and Berlin patients seems likely.
Scientists hesitate to use the word “cure” when describing cases like the London patient’s. Why do you think that is? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!