Fifth Person Cured of HIV After Undergoing Stem Cell Transplant

Scientists recently announced that a 53-year-old man in Germany — referred to as “the Dusseldorf patient” — has been cured of HIV. This is the fifth person cured of the disease after receiving a stem cell transplant for cancer treatment.

According to a 2019 report, in 2013, "the Dusseldorf patient" received a stem cell transplant for leukemia from donors with a gene mutation resistant to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This CCR5 Delta 32 genetic mutation hampers HIV’s ability to infiltrate immune cells and is present in only 1% of the population — primarily people of European descent.

In a communication brief published on February 20 in the journal Nature Medicine, scientists note that after being off HIV medication for four years, the man still has no detectable HIV in his body. The researchers also say that despite sporadic traces of HIV DNA in tissue samples, they found no evidence of viral replication when they tested the DNA samples in mice.

This latest case comes after a patient at the research and treatment organization City of Hope became free of HIV after undergoing a similar stem cell transplant treatment for leukemia.

Still, stem cell transplants — also called bone marrow transplants — carry significant risks of complications, including infections, iron deficiency anemia, and bleeding risks. These complications are primarily due to the chemotherapy drugs used to kill cancer cells before the stem cell transplant can occur.

However, the researchers suggest that the results achieved with "the Dusseldorf patient" provide strong evidence that stem cell transplants using CCR5 Delta 32 donors cures HIV and generates valuable insights that will hopefully guide future HIV cure strategies. They also note that expanding on this approach may hold the promise of an HIV cure outside of cancer treatments.

Although HIV medication can help people with the condition live long and healthy lives, it cannot completely eradicate the virus in the body. Therefore, if scientists can successfully develop a curative treatment strategy based on CCR5 Delta 32 stem cells, it could potentially free approximately 38.4 million people worldwide from HIV.

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