A British man has been declared cured of HIV, making him only the second adult in the world to have cleared the virus from his system since the epidemic began. The news is groundbreaking in that it has confirmed to researchers that though eradicating the virus remains very difficult, it is possible.
According to the Guardian, highly sensitive tests conducted on the man found no trace of HIV in his body. Though many doctors are using the word “cured” to describe his current condition, the scientists directly involved in the case are a bit more cautious, calling it “remission:”
“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. He described his patient as “functionally cured” and “in remission”, but cautioned: “It’s too early to say he’s cured.“
The man, identified only as “the London patient,” received bone marrow stem cells three years ago from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that is resistant to HIV. This course of treatment was very similar to that received by the only other person cured of the virus, an American named Timothy Brown who was cleared of HIV in 2007.
In an email to the New York Times, the London patient wrote that learning of the cure was “surreal” and “overwhelming.”
“I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime,” he said.
Unfortunately, experts say that the method used to treat the London patient isn’t currently practical for widespread use. As the Guardian says,
The procedure is expensive, complex and risky. Exact match donors would have to be found in the tiny proportion of people – most of them of northern European descent – who have the CCR5 mutation.
He [Gupta] said his team planned to use these findings to explore potential HIV treatment strategies. “We need to understand if we could knock out this [CCR5] receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy,” he said.
The case will be reported in the journal Nature on Tuesday.