Man 'free' of HIV after stem cell treatment

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Some companies are researching gene therapy techniques, but they remain far from developing a cure for widespread use. Almost 37 million people have been infected world-wide over the past four decades. Indeed, 16 months later, his virus remains at below detectable levels, and his immune cells all contain the HIV-fighting CCR5 mutation.

This suggestion that HIV might be curable has fuelled research into a cure for HIV, including the IAS's efforts, Towards an HIV Cure, established in 2012.

He later developed cancer and agreed to undergo a bone-marrow transplant for treatment. The therapy responsible has worked on only one other person who is considered to be "cured" of HIV: Timothy Ray Brown, who still does not show signs of the virus in his body after more than 10 years. About a year and a half after the transplant, with no indications of an active infection, antiviral therapies were stopped.

But the reason this case is so significant is that it could help experts who are looking for new ways to tackle HIV and achieve a cure.

A second person has experienced sustained, lasting remission from HIV-1, effectively leading some scientists to believe the patient has been cured of the viral infection.

Dr. Gero Hütter, who treated the Berlin patient and is now medical director at Cellex Collection Center in Dresden, Germany, said in an email that the treatment used for the London patient is "comparable" to the one he pioneered.

Dr. Ravindra Gupta, who presented the findings at the Seattle meeting, said, "I think this does change the game a little bit".

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The patient, from London, was able to successfully recover after receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare HIV-resistant genetic mutation. His drug regiment was much less harsh than the only other known patient who was cured of HIV. HIV is at its most risky when it is actively replicating, furiously producing as many copies of itself as possible so it can penetrate immune cells and spread infection.

"This is a big deal", says Sharon Lewin, who heads the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia.

Both the first patient to be cured of H.I.V., Timothy Ray Brown, who is now 52 and was cured in 2007, and the new patient, whom scientists refer to as the "London patient," were afflicted with forms of cancer and were given bone-marrow transplants meant to treat their cancers, not the H.I.V virus, according to The New York Times. Although the interventions that the two patients received could only be used on a tiny fraction of the 37 million HIV-infected people worldwide, their stories point to cure strategies that could be more widely applicable.

Researchers from University College London, Imperial College London, Cambridge and Oxford Universities were all involved in the case.

Reports seen by Briefly.co.za today indicated that doctors conducted numerous tests on the said patient and they could not find a single trace of the HI virus three years after the bone marrow transplant procedure.

Most experts say it is inconceivable such treatments could be a way of curing all patients.

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