By: Rebecca Stephens
A little over a decade ago, scientists performed a procedure on a patient called the “Berlin patient.” This single procedure has changed the scientific and medial word as it was the first to fully cure HIV. Which is something that, for a very long time, could not be duplicated… until now.
Since the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic has killed close to 35 million people throughout the world. Meanwhile, almost 37 million people have been infected by HIV alone. Through extensive scientific research, there has been advances of drugs for patients to keep the virus dormant. However, none that fully eliminated the dangerous cells.
12 years ago, Timothy Ray Brown – or as many know him as the “Berlin patient” – was the first, and only, person to successfully eliminate his HIV. This was achieved through a stem cell transplant from a donor who had HIV-resistant cells. After many years of trying to duplicate the procedure, Brown is now not the only one who has experienced this phenomenal procedure.
The London Patient
A little over 6 years ago, the “London patient” was diagnosed with blood cancer. On top of that, we contracted HIV 15 years prior. Having no other chance of survival, the cancer-stricken man turned to doctors for help.
With the aid of his team of doctors and professor and HIV biologist, Ravindra Gupta, they were able to find a transplant donor who was HIV resistant. The immediately moved to treated the patient.
Road to Recovery
While the transplant went rather smoothly, the patient suffered from side effects such as “graft-versus-host.” This is a condition where the donor’s immune cells start attacking the patients own immune cells.
According to Gupta, they have not detected any remaining viruses. However, he is calling his patient “functionally cured” and “in remission” since it’s too early to say if the “London patient” is fully cured.
Is this Realistic?
Most specialists say that while the transplant went smoothly, this way of curing patients is just not realistic. The procedure is expensive, complicated, and can be extremely risky. Not to mention, exact match HIV resistant donors would need to be found in an already small number of people. However, does the graft-versus-host disease have a bigger role in the results of a cure?
The London patient’s case will be reported to the journal Nature and presented in greater detail at a medical conference in Seattle today, Tuesday, March 5.