Former UK-based chef is second person in the world to be ‘cured’ of HIV – Mirror Online

Posted: March 10, 2020 at 9:43 am

A former chef living in the UK has become the second person in the world to be 'cured' of HIV, according to scientists.

Adam Castillejo has remained free of HIV for two-and-a-half years since he was given ground-breaking therapy at Hammersmith Hospital in west London.

The 40-year-old, who was born in Venezuela but lives in England, received a transplant of bone marrow stem cells that rid him of the AIDS-causing virus.

The donor's DNA carries a gene mutation that makes blood highly resistant to the virus.

His doctor Professor Ravindra Kumar Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, said: "We propose these results represent the second ever case of a patient to be cured of HIV."

American Timothy Ray Brown, now 54, became the first person to be cured of HIV/AIDS in 2011.

He was dubbed "The Berlin Patient" because he lived in the city at the time - and was treated there.

Prof Gupta said: "Our findings show the success of stem cell transplantation as a cure for HIV, first reported nine years ago in the Berlin patient, can be replicated."

Mr Castillejo has received bone marrow stem cells for the past three years from a donor who carries a rare gene called CCR5 that stops HIV in its tracks.

He has also spent 18 months without taking anti-retroviral drugs - the medication that controls the virus and stops it progressing.

Mr Castillejo told the New York Times he was in a "unique and very humbling position."

He said: "I want to be an ambassador of hope."

As a young man, he made his way first to Copenhagen and then to London in 2002 he was found to be HIV positive in 2003.

Reporting his case in The Lancet HIV, Prof Gupta says long-term follow-up "suggests no detectable active HIV virus remains in the patient."

He added: "Although the treatment is high-risk and only suitable for certain patients, the results provide evidence this patient is the second to be cured of the virus - replicating the finding that HIV cure is possible through stem cell transplantation."

Prof Gupta pointed out Mr Castillejo and Mr Ray Brown were given stem cells to treat cancer, not HIV.

Stem cell and bone marrow transplants are life-threatening operations. Dangers lie in the patient suffering a fatal reaction if substitute immune cells don't take.

Medication that lowers the virus to an undetectable level is a safer option for those living with HIV.

Prof Gupta said: "It is important to note this curative treatment is high-risk, and only used as a last resort for patients with HIV who also have life-threatening haematological malignancies.

"Therefore, this is not a treatment that would be offered widely to patients with HIV who are on successful anti-retroviral treatment."

But the successes shed light on how a more widely applicable cure might be developed in the future, say the team.

Mr Castillejo has a healthy number of immune cells, suggesting he has recovered well.

What's more, 99 percent are derived from the donor's stem cells, indicating the transplant had been successful. This suggests a "99 percent probability of cure," said the researchers.

But Mr Castillejo will need continued, but much less frequent, monitoring for re-emergence of the virus.

Co-author Dr Dimitra Peppa, of the University of Oxford, said: "Gene editing using the CCR5 has received a lot of attention recently.

"The London and Berlin patient are examples of using the CCR5 gene in curative therapies outside of gene editing.

"There are still many ethical and technical barriers - for example gene editing, efficiency and robust safety data - to overcome before any approach using CCR5 gene editing can be considered as a scalable cure strategy for HIV."

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.

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Former UK-based chef is second person in the world to be 'cured' of HIV - Mirror Online

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