The Current

As 2nd person declared HIV-free, advocate says finding 'functional cure' is key

A man known as the London Patient, who had been living with HIV, appears to have had the virus eradicated from his system after he received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor. But researchers and experts caution this doesn't mean a be-all-end-all cure for the disease has been found.

Ron Rosenes has been living with HIV for nearly 40 years

Ron Rosenes, an advocate living with HIV, says we should view advances in treatment and eradication as a 'continuum.' (Ron Rosenes)

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After researchers declared a second person HIV-free, one advocate says we need to focus on finding "a functional cure" that allows patients to "coexist" with the virus — without taking drugs.

"Cure-related research for HIV has really gone along two tracks, and one track has been to find, or seek to find, a cure that would eradicate HIV from the body," said Ron Rosenes, a community health advocate and researcher who has lived with the virus for nearly 40 years.

However, eradication is an "extremely daunting task," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"I personally think that we are wiser to view the treatment advances that we are making, together with the research to eradicate the virus, as a continuum," he said.

Rare gene mutation linked to latest case

In the latest case, a man known as "the London patient" was found to have no trace of HIV nearly three years after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare, HIV-resistant gene mutation.

Ravindra Gupta, a professor and HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the man, told Thomson Reuters the London patient is "functionally cured."

Experts warn, however, that this doesn't mean the cure for HIV has been discovered.

The transplant is also expensive, risky and impractical for curing people on a large scale, they told Thomson Reuters.

Timothy Ray Brown, also known as 'the Berlin patient,' was the first person believed to be cured of HIV, more than a decade ago. (Manuel Valdes/Associated Press)

That's because the transplant would require finding more donors with the rare gene mutation — a form of which Rosenes said he has.

"It is thought that my ability to withstand the onslaught of the virus has had a protective factor and enabled me to live as long as I have and with as much health as I have," he said.

During that time, Rosenes has been watching HIV therapy evolve, and he thinks more changes are ahead that could improve quality of life for people living with the virus.

"Instead of taking pills 365 days a year … you might be able to have a monthly injection," he said. "That would reduce your, you know, treatment moments to 12 per year."

To learn more about finding a cure for HIV, Tremonti spoke with:

  • Dr. Darrell Tan, a clinical researcher focusing on HIV at St. Michael's Hospital, and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
  • Ron Rosenes, community health advocate and researcher who has been living with HIV for nearly 40 years.

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

With files from The Associated Press. Produced by Idella Struino, Richard Raycraft and Jessica Linzey.