New patients cured of HIV as fight against AIDS continues

Mar 10, 2019, 12:34 AM | Updated: Mar 12, 2019, 2:29 pm
(Fred Hutch)...
(Fred Hutch)
(Fred Hutch)

It was announced last week that a man from London and another man from Düsseldorf appear to the second and third people to be cured of HIV, which inadvertently occurred after a bone marrow transplant designed to treat the patients’ cancer.

The first was 12 years ago with Timothy Ray Brown, a Seattle man who’s been free of HIV since 2007. KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis spoke with Fred Hutchinson HIV researcher Dr. Josh Schiffer, who discussed his reaction to hearing the news and what this breakthrough means in the fight against HIV.

“This is a very encouraging piece of news, it’s an encouraging step. The barrier to curing HIV is a population of infected cells, which despite people being on anti-viral therapy — persists for their entire life,” said Dr. Schiffer.

RELATED: Trials for ‘next-generation’ HIV vaccine begin at Fred Hutchinson

“We’ve been trying for many many years to try to figure out how to eradicate those cells or silence the virus within those cells.”

Dr. Schiffer says that what these findings do is show researchers some of the mechanisms that make such cells persists, as well as how they might be targeted.

“The reason we know that this appears to be effective is that these people are no longer taking their anti-retroviral agents — which stops the virus from replicating — but nevertheless using very sensitive approaches, the virus cannot be detected in their body at present.”

RELATED: 8 cases of HIV identified among homeless drug users

While the discovery appears to present a pathway to eventually curing HIV, we’re still a ways away, and this latest announcement is by no means a definitive cure.

“The reason that this needs to be taken with some caution and perspective is that the unifying feature of these three people is that they all had cancer, and they all had life-threatening forms of blood cancer, and as a result needed to undergo a stem cell transplant in order to survive,” said Dr. Schiffer.

“It’s a very risky procedure, it’s a very expensive procedure, and it’s not a procedure we would give to somebody with chronic HIV which was been well treated and is otherwise healthy,” he said. “The encouragement here is that it teaches us so much about why the virus is persisting, but it’s not a procedure that would be available to healthy person who has HIV.”

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New patients cured of HIV as fight against AIDS continues