The “Berlin Patient” as a Proof of Concept for an HIV Cure

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Last December, Doctors from Germany published the first documented case of a HIV infection cure. Although it occurred in a very special situation -and will not be reproducible at a large scale- it is the first breakthrough toward an HIV cure. We have got an interview of this patient and we discuss the global implications of this unique case.

Toulon, France, August 08, 2011 (PressReleasePoint) -- Although HIV infection can now be controlled with life-long antiretroviral therapy, making it a ‘chronic disease’, it is still a worldwide threat killing more than 2 million individuals annually and infecting more than 35 millions. Most patients in poor-resource countries do not have access to antiretrovirals and, even in the developed world, the financial burden of treatment puts HIV care in jeopardy. Finally, antiretroviral therapy is associated with problems on compliance, side effects and toxicities, resistance, showing that it is not the ultimate solution to the disease.

HIV always persists in treated patients due to the existence of life-long viral reservoirs which are not influenced by current antiretrovirals. Previous attempts to get rid of these reservoirs were all failures. In December 2010, a German team published the cure of an HIV-infected patient who received 2 bone marrow transplants for a relapsing leukemia. The bone marrow donor was chosen having a rare condition which is a genetic deletion on the CCR5 coding gene. The CCR5 is one of the co-receptors used by HIV to enter cells. Persons bearing this genetic defect are particularly resistant to HIV infection. Timothy Ray Brown, the “Berlin patient” stopped his antiretroviral medications at the time of the first transplant….and HIV never came back. With 4 years of follow up now, not any trace of HIV can be found in his body.

Allogenic bone marrow transplants are difficult procedures and the CCR5 deletion is a rare defect, making this case not “the” solution for HIV cure. However it renewed enthusiasm in the scientific field and allowed to get stronger financial support from governmental agencies, like the NIH (National Institutes of Health).
Several research groups are working on new strategies to “purge” or “control” the HIV reservoir, either with new drug compounds or gene therapy. A “Global Scientific Strategy Towards an HIV Cure” has been set up under the initiative of the IAS (International AIDS Society).

“I am very pleased that my cure can be used as a catalyst to work for a universal cure of HIV as well as other diseases not necessarily related to HIV” modestly told us Timothy Ray Brown in a recent interview. Actually, he is the cornerstone of a new revolution happening in the HIV field.

The interview is available at: http://www.hiv-reservoir.net/index.php/Latest-News-on-HIV-Reservoirs-Eradication/timothy-ray-brown-berlin-patient-interview.html
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