Doctors have managed to ‘cure’ a man living with HIV. It’s only the second time ever since the disease’s outbreak that it’s happened.
The patient received stem cells three years ago from an HIV-resistant donor and then went off his medication that is meant to keep the disease from growing inside the body, also known as antiretroviral treatment or ART.
According to the ABC, highly sensitive tests have since shown that there is now no HIV detected in his system.
The patient contracted the disease in 2003 and was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012.
HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the man, Ravindra Gupta, said that it’s too early to say whether he is officially cured of the disease, but did go as far as saying he was ‘functionally cured’ and ‘in remission’.
It was only in 2016 that he was able to access the stem cell donation because he was seeking treatment for the cancer, not the HIB. Doctors haven’t been clear on why the patient hadn’t started ART when he was diagnosed with the disease.
The donor had genetic mutation known as CCR5 delta 32, a gene that provides a resistance against HIV.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the HIV/AIDS division at the National Institutes of Health, told the Daily Mail, we shouldn’t expect this type of treatment to become the stock standard for people wanting a cure.
“If I have Hodgkin’s disease or myeloid leukaemia,” he said, “that’s going to kill me anyway, and I need to have a stem cell transplant, and I also happen to have HIV, then this is very interesting.
“But this is not applicable to the millions of people who don’t need a stem cell transplant.”
The unidentified man now joins Timothy Ray Brown, also known as The Berlin Patient, the only other person to be cured of HIV.
He was diagnosed with the disease in 1995 and started antiretroviral treatment. The American was afflicted with acute myeloid leukemia and received a stem cell transplant from a donor with the same CCR5 delta 32 gene.
Three months after his first treatment, the HIV in his body dropped dramatically and he was soon listed as undetectable.
He still doesn’t take antiretroviral treatment, the treatment that most people with HIV take, and yet he remains essentially cured.
While this new patient might not unlock the cure to a disease that has killed millions of people, it does give hope to researchers that it is possible in some circumstances.