It was always thought that HIV does not have a proper cure. While there might be about 36 million people all over the world to be suffering from HIV, the virus has continued to plague human beings for quite some time. Yes, there are antiretroviral medicines for treating HIV, but it does not cure it. Rather, it just suppresses it. So, there is a chance that an HIV afflicted person will live through their life without succumbing to the virus, but that is not the way anybody wants to live. Being on medication forever is not only a terrible lifestyle, but it’s also very expensive.
That’s why when Thomas Brown, the patient from Belgium, recovered from HIV, it sent shivers down the world a decade ago. Back in 2007, Brown had acute myeloid leukemia. He was treated with both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, along with stem cell transplant. The catch was that this stem cell donor had the gene mutation of CCR5. This gene mutation is special as it prevents any kind of HIV expression from taking place in the body. The results were clear – Brown stopped taking medicines and the HIV virus did not return. The doctors declared that Brown was cured of it.
So, it was a win for humankind against HIV!
However, that was only one win. While doctors have tried their best to replicate the result, they have failed again and again. First of all, stem cell transplant is a very risky business and no one recommends it. Add to that the backlash that the Chinese scientist received for developing Chinese babies by performing risky editing on the genes in the babies to make them HIV resistant. One can understand why doctors were not really enthusiastic about this solution. As of now, the antiretroviral drugs could be prescribed and seen to be the only way to fight HIV.
However, according to Prof Ravindra Gupta from University College London, this was not the best solution. It was not as cost-effective as people from all over the world, especially from developing countries, cannot be put on such medication for their entire life which they cannot afford. There had to be a better solution to this problem. And somehow, Gupta and his team seemed to have got it.
An HIV patient from London, (known as the London patient), has now been declared as the second person to have been cured of HIV. He had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 2012 and had to undergo chemotherapy. Similar to Brown, he had a stem cell implant with that special gene CCR5. The result was that the virus stopped making an appearance on the blood tests of the man. He was taken off his antiretroviral drugs and blood tests were conducted for 18 months. The virus was nowhere to be found. Finally, the doctors unanimously agreed and declared the London man to become the second person to be cured of HIV.
Once the announcement had been made, the president of the International Aids Society, Anton Pozniak, claimed that this just reassured them that the cure for HIV does exist. With this major advancement in this study, there is a possibility to find a cost-effective technique to counter this disease. According to Gupta, one of the ways to do so would be by gene-editing, especially in an infected patient, which according to him seems a justifiable goal. After all, this second case provides genuine evidence as to how HIV can be tackled.
As of now, Brown remains utterly elated. At first, he was dubious about the findings and he did not want to give up on the medication. After so many years, it took the doctors some time to take him off his medications. It was a risk, but now it seems totally worth it. However, there are certain experts who are still doubtful about the results. According to them, this could be just a remission that is being mistakenly considered as a cure.
Well, we just have to wait and see. But we will keep our fingers crossed and pray that the London patient, just like the Belgian Man, would be able to live happily ever after.
IMAGE CREDIT: mackoflower