A New Piece of the HIV/AIDS Puzzle Has Been Found

Years ago Timothy Ray Brown and American man, underwent a stem cell transplant that resulted in the successful cure of the HIV infection. Twelve years later, Brown is still free of HIV and now doctors have identified a second successful transplant. It is considered a long-term remission.

An unidentified London man, The New York Times reports, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and began taking medication to control the infection in 2012. After developing Hodgkin lymphoma, the patient agreed to a stem cell transplant to treat the cancer in 2016.

Doctors found a perfect donor with a gene mutation with natural resistance to HIV—it was a double copy of the mutation that about 1% of people descended from northern Europeans have inherited.

With the transplant, the patient’s immune system changed giving him an HIV resistance.

To test if the infection would return, the patient voluntarily stopped taking his daily HIV medication. Doing so makes patients eventually see viral symptoms within weeks. But in the case of the London patient this did not happen. Now, 18 months after stopping the medications post-surgery, there is still no trace of HIV in the patient.

Although this appears to have been a success, these transplants are dangerous and have not been successful in all patients. Stem cell transplants are harsh on the body and require radiation or chemotherapy in order to damage the body’s immune system to make room for a healthier one. Additionally, they are impractical if they were to treat the millions who are currently living with HIV.

Still, this is a great new medical development that lends itself as a new step in the right direction in HIV/AIDS research. Brown had to undergo a second transplant when his cancer returned, but the London patient has not had as difficult of a time. It proves to doctors that you do not need to be near death with HIV in order for this type of transplant to work.

h/t: The New York Times

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