Tuesday October 22, 2019

Stem Cell Transplant Shows Promise For AIDS Treatment: Study

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people

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School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. (VOA)

Although the news of a second person being cured of HIV through stem cell transplant is exciting and may pave the way for future treatments, experts say the treatment may not work in case of all patients infected with the AIDS causing virus.

“The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, reducing its ability to fight diseases or infections,” Girish Badarkhe, Haematologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, told IANS.

“The stem cell transplant primarily involves reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. But there a small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations known as CCR5-delta 32,” he stressed.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, a man in London, who prefers to remain anonymous, was treated with stem cell transplants from donors with CCR5-delta 32 mutation. It made him resistant to HIV, just like the first cured case of Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the “Berlin patient”, a decade ago.

The London man was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and was put on anti-retroviral therapy in 2012. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the immune system.

After undergoing chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and also continued with anti-retroviral drugs for 16 months.

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Scientists have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS for close to 40 years. The director of UNAIDS called news that a man in London has been functionally cured of HIV a “breakthrough.” VOA

He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.

“While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system,” Badarkhe said.

“Stem cell transplants are an established treatment, particularly for blood related cancer with 70 per cent success rate. “In this case, he got cured both from cancer as well as the AIDS,” Badarkhe said.

Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV in 2017. With an HIV prevalence of 0.26 per cent in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people with HIV, shows UNAIDS data.

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“Besides, the stem cell therapy is also linked to increased death risks and is also not cost-friendly,” Badarkhe said.

However, experts are enthusiastic about the promise that the cure of the London patient showed.

“It is a positive news. But there is a need for more scientific facts and evidence to be established,” V. Sam Prasad, Country Programme Director at AIDS Healthcare Foundation India, told IANS.

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people. (IANS)

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Progress in Combating Global HIV/AIDS Epidemics Receding

The joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, warns the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections

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Photo shows the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2019. VOA

A report issued on the eve of an international AIDS conference in Mexico finds progress in combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic is receding.  The joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, warns the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections is slowing because nations lack the political will needed to end this scourge.

UNAIDS latest global update finds 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2018 and 770,000 died of AIDS-related illnesses.  The report finds more than 23 million people are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, but another 15 million are still not receiving this life-saving treatment.

UNAIDS Acting Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson says the report for the first time shows key populations and their sexual partners account for more than half of all new HIV infections.  She notes up to 54 percent of new infections is being spread by sex workers, drug users, men having sex with men, transgenders and prisoners.

She tells VOA these key populations suffer from stigma and discrimination.  Consequently, she says they are not being reached at the scale needed to stop transmission of HIV.

Global, HIV, AIDS
A report issued on the eve of an international AIDS conference in Mexico finds progress in combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic is receding. Pixabay

“The risk of those people being left behind and not being treated in a proper manner with access not only to rights, but also to treatment and care–if we cannot talk about that, we will not solve this.  We see in special regions then where this is extra-noticeable,” Carlsson said.

Carlsson says new infections have risen by 29 percent since 2010 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  During the same period, HIV infections have risen by 10 percent in the Middle-East and North Africa.

She says the global HIV/AIDS map shows a mixed picture.  She says some progress has been made in Western Europe and North America, though the number of new infections and deaths there remains unacceptably high.

As in the past, the report finds the majority of people living with HIV and new infections is in Eastern and Southern Africa.  However, it notes interventions in heavily-affected South Africa have succeeded in reducing HIV infections by 40 percent.

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Carlsson warns efforts to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic will fail without adequate funding.  She says available resources to respond to AIDS has fallen by nearly $1 billion.  Furthermore, she notes the UNAIDS program is more than $7 billion short of the estimated $26.2 billion needed by 2020. (VOA)