A second patient has reportedly been cured of HIV, which could be a major milestone, in the global fight against the AIDS epidemic.
A nurse (L) hands out a red ribbon to a woman, to mark World Aids Day, at the entrance of Emilio Ribas Hospital, in Sao Paulo December 1, 2014.
Scientists at IciStem, a consortium of European scientists researching use of stem cell transplants to treat the illness, say the London patient received a bone-marrow transplant in 2016 and was given immuno-suppresive drugs. Nearly one million people die annually from HIV-related causes.
Almost 37 million people worldwide live with HIV, yet only 59 percent receive ARV.
The study is to be published Tuesday in the journal Nature.
As with cancer, chemotherapy can be effective against HIV as it kills cells that are dividing.
The first known patient to be functionally cured of HIV is an American man, Timothy Brown, who also underwent similar treatment in Germany in 2007.
The researchers picked a donor who had two copies of a mutation in the CCR5 gene, which gives people resistance to HIV infection.
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People who have two mutated copies of the CCR5 allele are resistant to the HIV-1 virus strain that uses this receptor, as the virus can not enter host cells. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer of the immune system. The incoming transplanted donor-immune cells seek out and destroy all the host's immune cells - including those in which HIV can hide out, he said.
Such transplants are unsafe, even life-threatening, and have failed in some patients.
"The limitations of bone marrow transplants for [a] cure are that there is significant toxicity from the procedure, which include adverse effects from the chemotherapy that must obliterate the person's existing immune system", Dr. Joseph P. McGowan, the medical director at Northwell Health HIV Service Line Program in Manhasset, NY, told Healthline. At the moment it offers hope that a cure for HIV could be possible in the future, and not just a pipe dream.
Even so, the bone-marrow transplant that appears to have eliminated the virus is too risky, complicated and expensive to serve as a widespread cure.
Many patients now have good control of their disease with treatments such as Gilead's anti-retroviral drug Biktarvy, which combines three HIV medicines in a single daily tablet.
A new drug-resistant form of HIV is also a growing concern. The inability to find HIV in their blood, coupled with the missing CCR5 receptor, constitutes the HIV viral remission of the London patient announced earlier this week.
Some research teams in the United States and elsewhere are developing gene-editing techniques to edit CCR5 cells outside of the body and reintroduce the edited cells back to patients. "In our study we saw a prolonged rebound time - suggesting that the transplant itself can reduce the burden of HIV - but adding cells that are resistant makes the difference to go the whole hundred yards".