London HIV patient becomes world’s second AIDS cure hope

Timothy Ray Brown poses for a photograph, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Seattle. Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient," was the first person to be cured of HIV infection, more than a decade ago. (AP)
Updated 05 March 2019

London HIV patient becomes world’s second AIDS cure hope

  • The case is a proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, the doctors said, but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found
  • Some 37 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV and the AIDS pandemic has killed around 35 million people worldwide since it began in the 1980s

LONDON: An HIV-positive man in Britain has become the second known adult worldwide to be cleared of the AIDS virus after he received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV resistant donor, his doctors said.
Almost three years after receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection — and more than 18 months after coming off antiretroviral drugs — highly sensitive tests still show no trace of the man’s previous HIV infection.
“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.
The case is a proof of the concept that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, the doctors said, but does not mean a cure for HIV has been found.
Gupta described his patient as “functionally cured” and “in remission,” but cautioned: “It’s too early to say he’s cured.”
The man is being called “the London patient,” in part because his case is similar to the first known case of a functional cure of HIV — in an American man, Timothy Brown, who became known as the Berlin patient when he underwent similar treatment in Germany in 2007 which also cleared his HIV.
Brown, who had been living in Berlin, has since moved to the United States and, according to HIV experts, is still HIV-free.
Some 37 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV and the AIDS pandemic has killed around 35 million people worldwide since it began in the 1980s. Scientific research into the complex virus has in recent years led to the development of drug combinations that can keep it at bay in most patients.
Gupta, now at Cambridge University, treated the London patient when he was working at University College London. The man had contracted HIV in 2003, Gupta said, and in 2012 was also diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

LAST CHANCE
In 2016, when he was very sick with cancer, doctors decided to seek a transplant match for him. “This was really his last chance of survival,” Gupta told Reuters in an interview.
The donor — who was unrelated — had a genetic mutation known as ‘CCR5 delta 32’, which confers resistance to HIV.
The transplant went relatively smoothly, Gupta said, but there were some side effects, including the patient suffering a period of “graft-versus-host” disease — a condition in which donor immune cells attack the recipient’s immune cells.
Most experts say it is inconceivable such treatments could be a way of curing all patients. The procedure is expensive, complex and risky. To do this in others, 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 that makes them resistant to the virus.
Specialists said it is also not yet clear whether the CCR5 resistance is the only key — or whether the graft versus host disease may have been just as important. Both the Berlin and London patients had this complication, which may have played a role in the loss of HIV-infected cells, Gupta said.
Sharon Lewin, an expert at Australia’s Doherty Institute and co-chair of the International AIDS Society’s cure research advisory board, told Reuters the London case points to new avenues for study.
“We haven’t cured HIV, but (this) gives us hope that it’s going to be feasible one day to eliminate the virus,” she said.
Gupta said his team plans to use these findings to explore potential new 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 London patient, whose case was set to be reported in the journal Nature and presented at a medical conference in Seattle on Tuesday, has asked his medical team not to reveal his name, age, nationality or other details.


Delhi’s air quality turns ‘severe’ as toxic haze lingers

Updated 48 min 33 sec ago

Delhi’s air quality turns ‘severe’ as toxic haze lingers

  • During the last two months, the capital’s 20 million residents have breathed “moderate” to “satisfactory” air only for four days
  • The air quality index was “very poor” on most days this month

NEW DELHI: India’s capital New Delhi was shrouded in a toxic haze for the second straight day on Thursday, and visibility dropped due to cooler temperatures and lower wind speeds that let deadly pollutants hang in the air.
The air quality index crossed 400 on a scale of 500, indicative of “severe” conditions that pose a risk for healthy people and can seriously impact those with existing diseases.
The index measures the concentration of deadly pollutant PM2.5 — tiny particles that can enter the bloodstream. Chronic exposure to such pollutants can contribute to the risk of developing diseases such as lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Federal pollution control officials were tracking the air quality status, Prashant Gargava, member secretary at the Central Pollution Control Board, told Reuters.
The board falls under the federal environment ministry.
Under an emergency action plan, authorities shut down brick kilns and halted all construction activity during the day.
During the last two months, the capital’s 20 million residents have breathed “moderate” to “satisfactory” air only for four days, according to a record of official data compiled by Reuters.
The air quality index was “very poor” on most days this month.
Air quality levels have crossed 400 for a second time this month despite farm fires from Delhi’s neighboring states — blamed by authorities as the primary cause for poor air quality in recent weeks — coming to an end with the onset of winter.
“Now fire counts are almost stopped except in a few routine incidences and hence no contribution to Delhi’s air quality is expected now onwards for the season,” government-run monitor SAFAR said.
The relentless focus on stamping out farm fires every year tends to deflect scrutiny from authorities that are falling behind on cleaning up industry or improving public transport, critics say.
Vehicular exhausts, along with emissions from industry, contribute more than 50% of Delhi’s air pollution on most days through the year, according to official estimates.
SAFAR forecast rain later on Thursday, but added that Delhi’s air quality was likely to deteriorate next week due to foggy conditions.