HIV is a virus that spreads through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, especially T cells. HIV is particularly dangerous as it destroys the chance to fight off infections and diseases (CDC, 2020). Amidst all the chaos in the world, recently a second patient has been cured of HIV. A chance of an HIV cure brings a glimpse of hope to the 37.8 million individuals who have been suffering from HIV.
Despite an improvement in the treatment of the disease, for years researchers and scientists have been struggling to develop an ultimate cure. However, by curing two patients, doctors have reached a new milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic.
In 2007, HIV was first cured in Timothy Ray Brown. Years later, doctors in London announced that Adam Castillejo as the second HIV cured patient. Interestingly in both cases, the patients were cured of HIV while they were being treated for another illness.
First HIV Cure- Timothy Ray Brown’s Journey
Mr Timothy Ray Brown’s journey to recovery wasn’t easy or straightforward. After his initial diagnosis of HIV, he received the antiretroviral treatment (ART). ART is a combination of medications, that improve the life span of patients (CDC, 2020).
Years after being diagnosed with HIV, Mr Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He then started chemotherapy and as a precautionary measure submitted blood samples to a German stem cell donor bank.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Brown’s leukemia went into remission. However, Brown was later forced to get a stem cell transplant when his leukemia rebounded.
Stem Cell Treatment
The stem cell treatment for Brown began with doctors trying to identify a donor with a CCR5 Delta 32 mutation. People with two copies of CCR5 receptors are resistant to the HIV virus as the virus can’t penetrate the human cells.
The doctors used this method as this particular mutation is resistant to the HIV virus. After finding a donor with the CCR5 Delta 32 mutation, the transplant took place.
Second HIV Cure – Adam Castillejo’s Journey
The doctors never released the details about the second HIV cured patient, fearing all the attention and scrutiny that might follow. Until recently, the second cured patient was referred to as the “London Patient”. To become an ambassador of hope second HIV cured patient recently revealed his own identity (Mandavilli, 2020).
The second HIV cured patient is Mr Adam Castillejo. Mr Castillejo’s journey towards recovery was not entirely straightforward. He was cured of HIV when a received a bone marrow transplant for lymphoma.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that arises in the cells of the lymphatic system. Essentially, this type of cancer is concerning as it affects the disease-fighting network of the human body (NIH, 2020).
Adam Castillejo received an HIV cure as his bone marrow transplant donor had a mutation that impeded the ability of HIV to enter his cells. The transplant made Mr Castillejo’s immune system resistant to the virus.
HIV Cure: The Future
In the future, doctors and researchers hope to use gene therapy to target the CCR5 receptors of HIV positive patients. Gene therapy is a technique that uses genes to treat or prevent diseases. As a part of gene therapy, immunotherapy (vaccines) and direct antiviral therapy are currently being studied. Right now, various strategies of gene therapy are in the clinical trial stage. Even though research has to go through various hurdles, researchers think that gene therapy for an HIV cure is very promising.
The current approach of an HIV cure has only been successful twice till date. Due to the risks involved, the transplant approach might not be a practical option for the widespread cure of 37.8 million patients. Even though a stem cell transplant might not be the ultimate cure for the epidemic, the possibility of a cure itself is very reassuring for those suffering from the disease.