Transplant News Sharing // News from Source

MELBOURNE: In February, when Ravindra Gupta, an Indian-origin professor at the University of Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease (UK), got an email notifying him that he would be on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people this year, he thought someone was playing a prank on him. Follow up emails, however, convinced the 45-year-old it was indeed true.

“I was happy and surprised that long-forgotten virologists like me are on the list this year. It’s because of Covid-19 that the work of virologists is being recognised,” Gupta told TOI on Friday.

Gupta is credited with curing a man of HIV last year, only the second such case in the world. The patient, Adam Castillejo, also known as the London patient, is the one who has penned down the write-up on Gupta in the magazine.

Gupta got involved in Castillejo’s case — also a cancer patient — in 2015 when he was an infectious disease consultant at University College London. Castillejo was to undergo a bone marrow transplant to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The donated stem cells that Castillejo was to receive contained a unique mutation — Delta 32 — known to provide resistance against HIV.

This had been demonstrated in case of Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV through a bone marrow transplant in 2007. “But it had been 10 years and no one had tried to replicate the treatment,” said Gupta.

So the virologist designed a special antiretroviral treatment to be administered to the patient before and after the transplant. In 2019, the patient was declared free of the virus and the case study was published in journal Nature, earning Gupta instant fame and respect from the research community.

Gupta’s work sparked hope of an HIV cure, but he believes we are still a long way from finding a cure for 40 million people with HIV in the world. And for now, he is busy overcoming the Covid-19 challenge.

“The HIV virus shares similarities with Sars-Cov-2 so my previous experience is helping me understand the novel coronavirus better. But if we had focused more on research on viruses, funded more studies, especially after previous coronavirus outbreaks — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — we would not be in this situation. There just wasn’t enough research done on the two,” said Gupta.

The professor, born in England to parents who had migrated from UP in the 1970s, has led clinical trials of a rapid Covid-19 testing system in the UK earlier this year. In April 2020, a machine originally designed for HIV blood testing by Helen Lee, CEO of Diagnostics for the Real World, was modified to test throat and nose samples. “Back then, the testing was taking nearly three days. We realised that a machine like SAMBA could be revolutionary in Covid-9 testing and started clinical trials,” he said. The machine — SAMBA II — can deliver Covid-19 tests results within two hours with 99% accuracy and is widely in use in UK hospitals. He is now studying the efficacy of antibody tests for Covid-19 as well as Sars-Cov-2 mutations.

Gupta is hopeful that Covid-19 vaccines would be available soon, “but they may only be partially successful, at least initially. People will have to re-vaccinate. A fool-proof vaccine might take up to a year, which means we’ll be living without a vaccine and with the virus for a year”.

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