An HIV Patient Has Been Cleared Of The Virus For Just The Second Time Ever

A patient appears to have been cured of HIV, offering researchers fresh hope the virus could one day be eliminated. 

An HIV-positive man in Britain was cleared of the virus after receiving a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor, according to his doctors.

It comes almost 12 years after the first ever patient, an American man named Timothy Brown who became known as the "Berlin patient', was "functionally" cured after undergoing similar treatment in Germany.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, can progress to AIDS.

For Sharon Lewin, an expert at Australia’s Doherty Institute and co-chair of the International AIDS Society’s cure research advisory board, the second case offers hope.

“We haven’t cured HIV, but (this) gives us hope that it’s going to be feasible one day to eliminate the virus,” she told Reuters.

Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient," was the first person to be cured of HIV infection, more than a decade ago. Image: AAP

Almost three years ago, the British man received bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation known as 'CCR5 delta 32' that resists HIV infection.

Now, more than 18 months after coming off antiretroviral drugs, highly sensitive tests still show no trace of the man’s previous HIV infection.

“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.

Some 37 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV. The AIDS pandemic has killed around 35 million people worldwide since it began in the 1980s.

In Australia, more than 27,000 people were living with the virus in 2017.

Around two thirds of those diagnoses came from sexual contact between men, though recent research noted a 10 percent rise in diagnoses among heterosexuals in the same year.

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Gupta described his patient as “functionally cured” and “in remission”, but cautioned it's "too early to say he’s cured".

The man is being called the "London patient", in part due to similarities in his case to that of Timothy Brown.

Brown, who had been living in Berlin, has since moved to the United States and, according to experts, is still HIV-free.

People light candles on World AIDS Day in 2016. Image: AAP

Scientific research into the complex virus has in recent years led to the development of drug combinations that can keep it at bay in most patients.

'Last chance'

Gupta treated the London patient when he was working at the University College London.

He said the man contracted HIV in 2003 and in 2012 was also diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In 2016, when he was very sick with cancer, doctors decided to seek a transplant match for him.

“This was really his last chance of survival,” Gupta told Reuters.

The transplant went relatively smoothly despite side effects including a period of "graft-versus-host" disease whereby donor immune cells attack the recipient's immune cells.

But most experts say it is inconceivable the treatment -- that is expensive, complex and risky -- could work to cure all patients.

Exact match donors would need to be found amid the small proportion of people who have the CCR5 mutation deeming them resistant to the virus.

Both the Berlin and London patients had this and Gupta said this may have had a role in losing HIV-infected cells.

But it remains unclear whether CCR5 resistance is the only key.

With Reuters

Featured image: AAP