12 Years Ago, a Man Was Cured of HIV. Now It Appears Scientists Have Done It Again.
This post is also available in: Español
It was 2007 when Timothy Ray Brown, commonly referred to as the “Berlin Patient,” was cured of HIV. In the 12 years since that happened, researchers and scientists have tried painstakingly and failed to recreate that outcome … until now. The New York Times is reporting that more than a decade after Brown’s HIV cure, for a second time, a man — referred to as the “London Patient” — appears to have been cured of his HIV.
Researchers and experts are now saying that while an HIV cure — though some prefer to publicly refer to it as “long-term remission” — is difficult, it’s also possible.
The researchers’ report will be published in the journal Nature on Tuesday, March 5. They will also appear at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle this week to present their data.
In both cases, the patients were given bone marrow transplants intended to treat their cancer, and that’s what inadvertently acted as the HIV cure. That is of course an unrealistic treatment for most people with HIV, as it’s a dangerous procedure, as opposed to the medication now able to keep HIV-positive people’s viral count at manageable levels, thus confirming they are undetectable and unable to transmit the virus.
Still, experts are saying there may be a way to introduce “immune cells … modified to resist HIV” into the body as a more practical form of treatment.
“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” says Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a Netherlands virologist. “It’s reachable.”
The London Patient, who has been cured of both HIV and his cancer, tells the NYT, “I feel a sense of responsibility to help the doctors understand how it happened so they can develop the science. … I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime.”
The “Berlin Patient” nearly experienced death due to the treatment that ultimately rid his body of HIV. He was at one time in an induced coma after harsh immunosuppressive drugs and complications. Some scientists worried all of those complications created the perfect storm for Brown’s HIV cure. But the “London Patient” proves that’s not the case after all.
“Everybody believed after the Berlin patient that you needed to nearly die basically to cure HIV, but now maybe you don’t,” says Dr. Ravindra Gupta.
The “London Patient,” who wishes to remain anonymous, has been virus free for more than a year this month. He stopped taking HIV medications in September 2017.
As of now, doctors are tracking 32 HIV-positive patients who received bone marrow transplants from donors with the special HIV-resistant immune cells. The “London Patient” is one of those individuals. Another patient, referred to as the “Düsseldorf patient,” has been off his HIV meds for four months.
Dr. Gupta says that while the case of the “London Patient” requires further study, he’s optimistic that it will indeed be proof of an HIV cure, because results have been so similar to the “Berlin Patient.”
According to the NYT, “Most experts who know the details agree that the new case seems like a legitimate cure,” even though they question the practicality of the treatment for the average HIV-positive person.
As for the “Berlin Patient,” he’s thrilled to have someone else join his ‘club’ that previously only had one member, and he hopes this HIV cure of the “London Patient” proves as successful as his own. “If something has happened once in medical science, it can happen again,” says Brown, who currently lives in Palm Springs. “I’ve been waiting for company for a long time.”