He helped cure the ‘London patient’ of HIV He then turned to Covid.
The visionary is a limited series look at characters who are trying to change the way we live.
Ravindra Gupta has been researching drug-resistant HIV for more than a decade when he first met Adam Castillejo, who is known as “Patient in London,” Second person in the world to be cured of HIV Dr. Gupta, who goes after Ravi, is a professor at University College London, presenting both clinical and academic when Mr. Castillejo presented as both HIV positive and cancer. lymphoma relapsed, after a previous transplant using healthy stem cells from Castillejo’s own body had failed.
Building on the work of German hematologist Gero Hütter and others who went into curing the first HIV-infected person – Timothy Ray Brown, better known as “The Berlin Patient” – Dr. Gupta and his colleagues propose using stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation to prevent certain individuals from becoming infected with HIV. Mr. Castillejo agreed and went ahead with the transplant in 2016. 17 months later, Dr. Gupta and his team took Mr. Castillejo off the antiretroviral drugs that had stopped his HIV. In 2019, three years after the transplant, Dr Gupta published the results in the journal Nature, confirming Mr. Castillejo was cured of HIV.
The news shook the scientific world and revived the search for a cure. Dr Gupta was hired as a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge and established the Gupta Laboratory on the university’s biomedical campus to further her research.
A few months later, the coronavirus pandemic hit – and with states beginning to close and health systems taxed to breakneck levels, he found himself drawn to the response.
“Respiratory viruses were never something I wanted to get into. I didn’t think we had the skills or expertise to be useful,” Dr. Gupta said recently. However, he added, “the clinical interface of what I did drew me in to work with SARS. Things went awry here in March, and everything closed. One of the identified desperate needs is a quick check.”
Soon after, his team completed the pivot and was publishing some of the first studies validating rapid and antibody tests for the coronavirus using techniques honed in HIV research. . Over the past two and a half years, Gupta Laboratories has been conducting cutting-edge research, describing how new variants arise and providing some of the first evidence of a breakthrough Covid infection in vaccinated people. strains.
At his laboratory in Cambridge, he discussed both the remarkable strides scientists have made over the past three years, as well as the consequences of the public’s declining trust in scientific knowledge. .
This interview has been condensed and edited.
How has previous research on AIDS/HIV affected the response to coronavirus?
The response to SARS-CoV-2 has accelerated largely due to advances in HIV. There have been tremendous advances in the way we manufacture drugs, target viruses, and a lot of these technologies have been honed on HIV.
What are the similarities between these two pandemics?
Both have created a huge panic, SARS-CoV-2 more than HIV – for good reason, because it is transmitted by respiratory droplets. Some people are more vulnerable than others, and socioeconomics certainly matter. Also, in this era of vaccine availability, rich versus poor, global north versus global south – all those inequalities have been and are happening.
Will this global emergency improve your ability to work with colleagues across a variety of fields?
It certainly galvanized an amount of interaction that we wouldn’t otherwise have done. We’re interested in immunology, we’ve done some very advanced work with colleagues downstairs and in different areas of the building. We started using stem cells to create artificial lungs for experiments. All of this started happening due to the state of emergency. People we will never talk to, ideas we will never have. So it’s really interesting scientifically.
Could fatigue be the cause of the weakened public response to Covid?
Uh, I suspect so. I think the high intensity caused emotional exhaustion. Of course, HIV has made strides in about 20 years. That happened very quickly for Covid. And without vaccines and mRNA technology, we’d be in a much darker place.
Across society, we are seeing a decline in trust in institutions, but in your field, for example, there are quite dire consequences for those who refuse to get vaccinated. Does that affect how you think scientists and medical institutions have to communicate with the public?
I think there is a general lack of trust between the public and informants. That is partly motivated by sections of the public spreading misinformation. I think the actual communication is pretty good from the start – you get the message clear and I think it’s pretty good. The public health message is becoming more and more complicated because no one wants to wear a mask.
For example, after vaccination, people thought we wouldn’t wear masks. We published an article in the journal Nature about breakthrough infection and the CDC the following week cited our work as a reason to hide, even with vaccines. It sounds normal now, but back then it drove people crazy. But it’s the right thing to do because your response can decline after a few months, and many people who get the two-dose vaccine can get a second infection. So all have contributed to confusion due to lack of education or knowledge of nuance. And one thing we have to deal with now is that communication takes on a nuance that even scientists can’t grasp. So expecting the public to catch this is pretty much impossible. So we’re at a crossroads in how we communicate complex messages.
Will there be long-term effects if we can’t convince a larger proportion of the population to vaccinate?
Circumstances can flare up in places like China, where the population is pretty naive when it comes to vaccines, and vaccines aren’t necessarily the best. And if people don’t get their boosters in time, we might get to the point where it becomes another serious health problem of the magnitude we’ve seen. I can foresee in a few years we could be in trouble again. The worrying thing is that we’re cutting back on a lot of what we’ve developed to address this.