A patient in London has made history after becoming the second person to be cured of HIV. This anonymous patient became free of the virus after receiving a bone marrow transplant.
The donor of the transplanted stem cells has an unusual genetic mutation which makes them resistant to HIV. In the 18 months since the London patient stopped taking his antiretroviral medication, there have been no indicators that the HIV has returned.
Scientists will never be able to consider bone marrow transplant as a large-scale cure for HIV. The procedure comes with a number of serious risks. However, the success of the London patient and of Timothy Brown, the first person to be cured back in the 2000s, serves as confirmation that recovery is possible.
Anton Pozniak, the president of the International Aids Society, announced, “These new findings reaffirm our belief that there exists a proof of concept that HIV is curable.”[
The remarkable treatment, carried out by a team of experts from University College London, suggests that the cure for HIV may lie somewhere within gene editing. In particular, the CCR5 gene located on the surface of white blood cells causes immunity to HIV.
That said, gene editing is a controversial practice. Chinese experimentalist He Jiankui raised the ire of scientists worldwide after revealing that he artificially modified the DNA of human embryos in an attempt to create HIV-resistant babies. He has been branded unethical and unbelievably reckless, while others believe that his actions mark the beginning of a groundbreaking new area of biological research.
The scientific community must now decide where to draw the moral boundaries on topics as contentious as gene editing and human experimentation.