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Researchers in London are giving hope to finding a cure for AIDS after a second HIV-positive man appears to have shaken the disease following a bone-marrow transplant, according to research published Tuesday by his doctors.
Tests confirmed the man's virus to be undetectable even though he's been off antiretroviral therapy for 18 months, doctors said in a research paper published in the science journal Nature. The man received a bone-marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor almost three years ago, the same procedure that appears to have eradicated the virus in a Berlin patient more than a decade ago.
While it's too early to say the man has been cured of HIV, researchers are optimistic.
"By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly, and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people," the study's lead author Ravindra Gupta said in a statement.
About 36.9 million people worldwide are living with HIV, according to CDC data. Since the pandemic began in the 1980s, nearly 35 million people have been killed due to complications from the virus.
The man, who is referred to as the "London patient," was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and began antiretroviral therapy in 2012. Later that year, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's disease — leading to chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
His case comes nearly 10 years after Timothy Brown, known as the "Berlin patient," was announced as the first person to be cured of HIV.
Both men were undergoing cancer treatments with stem cell transplants from HIV-resistant donors, researchers said. They both experienced graft-versus-host disease, which occurs when the donor's immune cells attack the recipient's, and that may have played a role in the treatment.
However, Brown was given two transplants while being treated for leukemia. He also underwent radiation treatment.
"Continuing our research, we need to understand if we could knock out this receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy," Gupta said.
These methods aren't appropriate as a standard HIV treatment, since there are medication combinations to help regulate the disease, doctors said.
But Graham Cooke, NIHR research professor and professor in infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said this should encourage HIV patients who need transplants to consider an HIV-resistant donor.
Other researchers said this study may stimulate research into more accessible therapies for those who don't have access to the current medications needed to keep HIV at bay.
"While this type of treatment is clearly not practical to treat the millions of people around the world living with HIV, reports such as these may help in the ultimate development of a cure for HIV," Andrew Freedman, a specialist in infectious diseases and head of the school of medicine at Cardiff University in Wales, said in a prepared statement. "This is likely to be many years away and until then, the emphasis needs to remain on prompt diagnosis of HIV and initiation of life-long combination antiretroviral therapy."