A man who has lived with HIV since the 1980s appears to have recovered, the fourth such case, doctors say.
He was given a bone marrow transplant to treat it leukemia from a donor who was naturally resistant to the virus.
The 66-year-old, who does not want to be identified, has stopped his HIV treatment. He said he was “beyond grateful” that the virus could no longer be found in his body.
The man is known as a “City of Hope” patient after the hospital where he was treated in Duarte, California.
Many of his friends died of HIV in the era before antiretroviral drugs gave people near-normal lifespans.
“I never thought I’d see the day”
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) damages the body’s immune system. This can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and the body tries to fight the infection.
In a statement, the man said: “When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, like many others, I thought it was a death sentence.
“I never thought I would live to see the day I no longer had HIV.”
However, he was not given therapy for his HIV, but because he developed the blood cancer leukemia at the age of 63.
The man’s medical team decided he needed a bone marrow transplant to replace his cancerous blood cells. Coincidentally, the donor was HIV resistant.
The virus enters our body’s white blood cells using a microscopic gate – a protein called CCR5.
However, some people, including the donor, have CCR5 mutations that close the door and keep HIV out.
The drug remains the ‘Holy Grail’
The “City of Hope” patient was closely monitored after the transplant and HIV levels became undetectable in his body.
He has now been in remission for over 17 months.
“We were thrilled to let him know that his HIV is gone and he no longer needs to take the antiretroviral therapy he’s been taking for more than 30 years,” said Dr. Jana Dickter, an infectious disease physician at the City of Hope.
The first time this happened was in 2011 when Timothy Ray Brown – known as the Berlin Patient – became the first person in the world to be cured of HIV.
There have already been three similar cases in the last three years.
The City of Hope patient is also the oldest patient to be treated in this way and the one who has lived with HIV the longest.
However, bone marrow transplants will not revolutionize HIV treatment for the 38 million people in the world currently infected.
Dr Dickter told me: “It is a complex procedure with possible side effects. So it’s not really a suitable option for most people living with HIV.”
However, researchers are looking at ways to target the CCR5 gate using gene therapy as a potential treatment.
The case was reported at the AIDS 2022 conference in Montreal, Canada.
Commenting on the findings, Prof. Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said: “A cure remains the Holy Grail of HIV research.”
She said there had been “a handful of individual cure cases before” and they provided “continued hope for people living with HIV and inspiration for the scientific community”.
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