The Berlin Patient (Timothy Ray Brown) was so far the only person in the world who had been cured of HIV. He underwent a stem cell transplant procedure that successfully cured him of his HIV infection and also made him famous. Now, there seems to be another case of HIV being cured. Stem cells were taken from a person resistant to HIV and transplanted in a patient known as the “London Patient”.
What makes this news so exciting is that it shows that Timothy Ray Brown wasn’t lucky. It shows that stem cell transplantation may be a viable way of curing HIV. If this is true then literally millions of lives could be saved through this method. Both patients followed a similar treatment. They received cell transplants from donors who had a mutated version of the CCR5 gene. Before receiving the transplant, they underwent a conditioning regimen that involved treating them with toxic chemicals to eliminate cancerous bone marrow that was present in their body. Their bodies then received the transplants that supplanted their vulnerable cells. After this, the patients halted their intake of antiretroviral drugs.
After 18 months of being HIV free, the London Patient hasn’t shown any signs of infection. Timothy Ray Brown remains uninfected as well. Tests have revealed that the patient’s blood cells have become immune to HIV strains that are dependent on CCR5. This goes to show that the cells that had been transplanted into their bodies have successfully become engrafted.
While this news is certainly uplifting, there’s still time before we can see a mainstream cure for HIV. This same treatment was applied on a small number of other patients as well. Unfortunately, they weren’t as lucky as the London or Berlin patients. Cell transplants managed to control their HIV without the need for antiretroviral drugs. However, the transplants didn’t successfully cure them.
Even the two successful cases weren’t magically cured overnight. Timothy underwent two cell transplants, whole body irradiation, and intensive chemical treatment before he was cured. The London patient’s treatment was milder, but still, it took time and effort as well. At the moment, researchers believe that the best way to cure HIV is by ensuring that mutated CCR5 engrafts onto a patient’s cells effectively.
The London and Berlin patients seem to have been lucky to an extent. However, their recovery isn’t good news for them alone. Both of these cases have provided scientists with invaluable information that may help in advancing HIV research. We now know how to monitor a decline in HIV infection in one’s blood without having to take them off of antiretroviral drugs and keeping our fingers crossed.
At the moment, the medical community states that there’s still time before we find a proper cure for HIV. However, we’re making progress. We’re learning more about the disease and in the coming years we’ll have even better tools to treat this deadly disease, slow down its progress, and eventually curb it out completely.