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'London patient': Second case ever of HIV remission

A second person is in sustained remission from HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, after ceasing treatment and is likely cured, researchers said on Tuesday in what was hailed as proof that the condition could one day be cured.

Ten years after the first confirmed case of an HIV-infected person being rid of the deadly disease, a man knew only as the "London patient" has shown no sign of the virus for nearly 19 months, doctors reported in the journal Nature.

Both had received bone marrow transplants to treat blood cancers, receiving stem cells from donors with genetic mutation present in less than one per cent of Europeans that prevents HIV from taking hold.

"It is a landmark. After 10 years of not being able to replicate (the first case), people were wondering if this was a fluke," said lead author Ravindra Gupta, a professor at the University of Cambridge.

"I think it is important to reaffirm that this is real and it can be done," Gupta told AFP. Millions of people infected with HIV around the globe keep the disease in check with so-called antiretroviral therapy (ARV), but the treatment does not rid patients of the virus.

Close to 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but only 59 per cent are receiving ARV. Nearly one million people die every year from HIV-related causes. A new drug-resistant form of HIV is also a growing concern.

Gupta and his team emphasised that bone marrow transplant -- a dangerous and painful procedure -- is not a viable option for HIV treatment. But the second instance of remission and likely cure following such a transplant will help scientists narrow the range of treatment strategies.

"The second case strengthens the idea that a cure is feasible," Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the University of Melbourne, told AFP. "We can try to tease out which part of the transplant might have made a difference here, and allowed this man to stop his anti-viral drugs."

The International AIDS Society said in a statement Tuesday that results from the second patient "reaffirm our belief that there exists a proof of concept that HIV is curable".
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