The world eagerly greeted news this week that the second-ever patient had been permanently cured of HIV following a bone-marrow transplant–an achievement that came almost 12 years after the first known case of someone being cured of the AIDS-causing virus.
And apparently, the feat has been repeated once again, according to New Scientist, bringing the total number of those who have been freed of HIV to three. The report suggests that the medical community could be on the cusp of developing a breakthrough cure to the global AIDS epidemic.
Members of a Netherlands-based team of scientists made the announcement in Seattle on Tuesday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), where they noted that the “Düsseldorf patient” had been apparently free of any HIV rebound symptoms following bone marrow transplants that were a part of their cancer treatment.
The Düsseldorf patient, like the “London Patient” before him, had quit their HIV antiviral medication regime before biopsies of the patients’ gut and lymphnodes showed no signs of viral infections–and only a few clusters of viral genes too weak to multiply.
Scientists warn, however, that it remains too early to know whether the virus has been completely wiped out.
In both cases, patients received transplanted donor cells including the genetic defect that blocks HIV receptor CCR5 – effectively preventing HIV from further infecting cells.
Notorious Chinese scientist He Jiankui had previously used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to delete CCR5 from twin embryos’ DNA in a bid to make them immune to HIV, as The Mind Unleashed previously reported.
Two other patients who have undergone the same stem cell transplants from someone with the CCR5 mutation are being tracked through the IciStem project. However, they haven’t yet ceased taking their antiviral drugs, according to Javier Martinez-Picado of the Barcelona-based IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute.
Bone marrow transplants are an exceedingly dangerous medical treatment considered too risky for HIV patients who don’t also have cancer. Such risky treatments remain out-of-the-question for people who are HIV-positive and can manage the disease through easily-accessible antiviral drugs.
Yet scientists are hopeful that genetically-resistant cells such as CCR5, especially when paired with more refined and developed genetic therapy and editing methods, may point the way to a potentially permanent cure to HIV that carries minimal risks for patients.
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