A Possible 2nd HIV Cure?

March 18, 2019
Timothy Brown aka The Berlin Patient, the 1st person to be cured of HIV/AIDS.

Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV, almost died during the treatment. Credit: Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

Last week, an annual conference called CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections) was held in Seattle, WA from Mar 4-7.  The conference, which focuses mostly on HIV and Hepatitis, gives global scientists and clinical investigators the opportunity to share findings from their respective projects.  The week-long conference began by reporting exciting news on Monday March 4, 2019 that a 2nd person may have possibly been cured of HIV.

This time, someone from London, who prefers to maintain his anonymity, may have been cured of HIV in ways similar to that of Timothy Brown aka The Berlin Patient and the 1st person to have been cured of HIV.  Timothy Brown had Leukemia cancer and HIV and he underwent 2 bone marrow transplants using the bone marrow of someone that had a mutation of the CCR5-Delta32 receptor that lies on the surface of CD4 (white blood) cells.  In other words, the bone marrow donor didn’t have the gene, or protein, called CCR5 that HIV likes to attach itself onto.  It has now been 12 years since Timothy Brown last had HIV.  Woohoo!  Columbia Research Unit is excited for you, Timothy Brown!

Our community engagement coordinator, Jorge Benitez, photo bombs a group pic with Timothy Brown aka The Berlin Patient at the 2018 United States Conference on AIDS.

Our community engagement coordinator, Jorge Benitez, photo bombs a group pic with Timothy Brown aka The Berlin Patient at the 2018 United States Conference on AIDS. Credit: Lillibeth Gonzalez

The London patient had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (a type of cancer) and HIV and it has been off HIV medication since September 2017.  The bone marrow transplants were performed to treat their respective cancers:  after chemotherapy, donor blood cells without CCR5 genes were infused to try and keep any residual HIV from attaching to and infecting their transplanted white blood cells.  Scientists were able to rid their bodies of HIV and cancer in both cases, thus far.  Some news outlets report that the London Patient case is a cure, however many people within the scientific community feel it is yet too early to classify this case as a cure and the London Patient still needs to undergo other tests, including but not limited to a spinal tap to look at the health of the central nervous system.

With baseball season soon approaching, we should note that scientists are not 2 for 2.  In other words, these 2 patients aren’t the only ones to have undergone bone marrow transfusions in efforts to be rid of both cancer and HIV and researchers want to make sure these results aren’t flukes.  Other patients with cancer and HIV underwent the same procedures without the same luck, but hope springs eternal.  There are currently about 38 people living with HIV who received bone marrow transplants and whose health is being monitored.  Steps are also being taken to find out if we can artificially remove CCR5 genes, a method called genome editing, from the white blood cells  as a more practical way to treat and prevent HIV than having to perform bone marrow transplants.

Many governments, health experts and community people, especially those most affected by HIV are working hard to end the epidemic.  Cases such as that of Timothy Brown’s and the London Patient’s instill hope that we will one end HIV.  I don’t know about you but my fingers are crossed.


Credit: Apoorva Mandavilli (2019, Mar 5) HIV Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic.

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