A man in Dusseldorf, Germany, has become the fifth person cured of HIV after receiving stem cells from a donor.
A 53-year-old man has become the fifth person cured of HIV in this way after receiving a blood stem cell transplant to treat leukaemia.
The man is showing no signs of an active infection after receiving the treatment from a donor who is resistant to the virus.
Man becomes fifth person cured of HIV – hope for the future
Bjorn Jensen at Dusseldorf University Hospital said, “We don’t think there’s a functional virus present” after the 53-year-old has been taking antiretroviral drugs for the last four years.
The patient was diagnosed with HIV back in 2008. Then, three years later, in 2011, the man developed leukaemia, which was treated with chemotherapy. However, the cancer returned the following year.
As such, in 2013, the man received blood stem cells in his bone marrow that gave rise to immune cells, even cancerous ones. These cells were killed off as a result of chemotherapy and then replaced with donor blood stem cells.
Doctors found a donor with a mutation that disables the CCR5 receptor that HIV uses to infiltrate and infect immune cells. It seems that the transplant made the man’s immune system resistant to HIV.
The Dusseldorf patient – the latest person to be cured
In 2017, the team of doctors were able to stop giving the ‘Dusseldorf patient’ immunosuppressing drugs to stop the rejection of the donor cells. In November 2018, the antiretroviral treatment was stopped.
The patient comes as the fifth person to be cured of HIV in this way after receiving cancer treatment. However, bone marrow transplantation is extremely risky.
This means that it will never be used to treat HIV alone. An alternative approach that is being explored is using gene editing to mutate the CCR5 gene in the immune systems of those who are HIV-positive.
Other patients – a handful of cured patients around the world
In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown, formerly referred to as the ‘Berlin patient’, became the first-ever person to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant to treat his leukaemia. The HIV remained undetected until his death from cancer in 2020.
Brown was a Seattle native living in Berlin at the time of his treatment and was the only person ever cured of HIV at the time.
The second person to be cured of HIV is a man originally known as the ‘London patient’, Adam Castillejo. He also received a stem cell transplant to help treat cancer.
There are only a handful of people around the world who have been deemed cured of HIV. Some have involved cancer treatments, while one woman’s cure came from immune-boosting therapies as part of a clinical trial.
The future for HIV patients sees a glimmer of hope as the number of cured patients mounts.