A patient who was diagnosed with HIV is now the second adult in the world to be considered cleared of the virus, a major breakthrough in combating the disease, according to a Reuters report. Known only as “the London patient,” the adult male was pronounced clear of the virus, showing no signs of his previous HIV infection. The doctors said that the breakthrough came about following a bone marrow stem cell transplant from an HIV-resistant donor about a year and a half after going off antiretroviral drugs. The man was receiving the bone marrow stem cells as part of a treatment for bone marrow cancer.
“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything,” said Ravindra Gupta, the HIV biologist who helped lead the team of doctors who treated the man.
Gupta went on to describe the man as “functionally cured,” though he stressed that it’s too early to say that he has completely beaten the virus.
Doctors are hopeful that the case may well prove to be the next stepping stone for medical science to create an actual cure for AIDS, although they urge caution, emphasizing that the patient is currently “in remission.”
The man is being described as “the London patient” in part to differentiate him from the first case in which a man was cured of HIV. An American man, Timothy Brown, became known as “the Berlin patient” when he was similarly cleared of the virus after being treated in Germany in 2007. Brown is still HIV-free, according to experts familiar with his case.
The London patient reportedly contracted the virus in 2003, and, in 2012, was also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. In a way, it was his cancer and the serious turn it took in 2016 that afforded the man a shot at the HIV cure, according to Gupta. The man grew seriously ill from the cancer, sick enough that doctors sought a transplant match for him.
“This was really his last chance of survival,” Gupta said.
The donor they found has a genetic variation that renders him or her HIV resistant, which appears to have eradicated the virus from the London patient.
While doctors emphasize that such an elaborate procedure as a bone marrow stem cell transplant is hardly a viable treatment for every HIV patient in the world, they are hopeful that the case will help open up new avenues for possible cures down the road for a disease that currently afflicts 37 million people. Since the AIDS pandemic emerged, it has killed some 35 million people globally.