A British man has been only the second to be cleared of HIV, following in the footsteps of another in 2007, who remains clear of the virus.
For just the second time since the worldwide HIV pandemic, a person has been cleared of the virus. A man known only as “the London patient” after receiving bone marrow stems from a donor who possessed a genetic mutation that resists the infection. The patient is 18 months removed from his cycle of antiretroviral drugs, and tests show no trace of HIV.
“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything,” said Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the man. He described his patient as “functionally cured” and “in remission”, but cautioned: “It’s too early to say he’s cured.“
The man has earned the soubriquet due to his case being similar to “the Berlin patient” – an American who underwent similar treatment in 2007. He remains HIV-free.
Since the 1980s, 35 million people have been claimed by the virus. Scientific measures have so far been able to keep the virus at bay in most patients, but removing it completely from the host has been something else entirely.
The London patient had contracted HIV in 2003 and was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a nefarious cancer of the blood. In 2016, the doctors sought the transplant, as their final option, as it “was really his last chance of survival,” Gupta said. The donor had a genetic mutation known as CCR5 delta 32, which possesses resistance to HIV.
Despite the outstanding results, experts do not believe that this method is the route to a wholesale curing of the virus. Donors have to be an exact match, and those donors have to possess the mutation. Most of those who possess said mutation are of northern European descent, so you’d have to imagine that the resource pool is finite.
Nevertheless, Gupta said his team planned to use these findings to explore greater HIV treatment strategies. “We need to understand if we could knock out this receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy,” he said.