London HIV Patient's Remission Spurs Hope for Curing AIDS

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One of the reasons HIV is so hard to eliminate is that the virus' normal lifecycle includes integrating a copy into the host cell's DNA. More than 18 months after, the unidentified man dubbed the "the London patient" came off antiretroviral drugs-tests still show no trace of the man's previous infection.

Yet it is too early to confirm whether or not the patient is indeed "cured" of the virus which causes AIDS, news.com.au reports.

Along with a shared HIV diagnosis, both patients had a form of blood cancer that did not respond to chemotherapy.

Reuters reports that the man, whose identity has not been revealed, has tested negative for the virus nearly three years after he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with an HIV-resistant genetic mutation.

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

But the London patient's conditioning treatment was far milder than Brown's, leading many to conclude this was probably not responsible for vanquishing the HIV virus.

Twelve years after doctors cured an HIV-positive patient for the first time, a second patient appears to be in "long-term remission", giving hope to those afflicted with the disease that a cure is no longer a pipe dream.

The vast majority of HIV virus strains use the CCR5 molecule, or receptor, as the port of entry into human cells.

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It's the second such success including "Berlin patient" Timothy Ray Brown. As of 2017, there were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. "We speculate that CCR5 gene therapy strategies using stem cells could conceivably be a scalable approach to remission", they said.

But he added: "The treatment is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment because of the toxicity of chemotherapy, which in this case was required to treat the lymphoma".

Two, the new bone marrow-which is where blood cells are made-is actively eliminating new HIV-infected cells. "This means the virus can not get into the cells".

His doctors found a donor with a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to HIV. More than 38,000 Americans were infected with HIV past year, and 6,160 U.S. deaths were directly attributed to HIV in 2016.

Nevertheless, the researchers are clear: "At 18 months post-treatment interruption it is premature to conclude that this patient has been cured".

Dr. Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and a professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, said the long remission seen in the London patient is "exciting". "But I think that every year we get a little bit closer to the ultimate goal, and cases like this I hope will continue to excite and inform the community". "There are similarities with the Berlin Patient case, but there are also differences".

The new case report will be presented at a medical conference in Seattle on Tuesday. In one example, Pablo Tebas, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, and his co-workers remove white blood cells from HIV-infected people and then knock out their CCR5 genes with a genome editor called zinc finger nucleases, a precursor to the better known CRISPR. A cure for HIV does not exist, but medications known as anti-retroviral therapy or ART can significantly slow the illness's advance, potentially extending patients' lives by decades.

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