Doctors have managed to “cure” a patient who had been living HIV, in what is only the second time ever in history since the outbreak of the disease.
The patient in question had received stem cells three years ago from an HIV-resistant donor. Following this, he went off his medication, which is known as antiretroviral treatment or ART. It is meant to keep the disease from growing inside the body.
Since then, according to the ABC, some highly sensitive tests have been conducted and the results are showing that there is no longer HIV detectable in his system.
The HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the unidentified man, Ravindra Gupta, said that it’s still 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”.
The patient contracted the disease back in 2003 and later received a diagnosis for Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012.
It was only in 2016 that he was able to access the stem cell donation, and that was because he was seeking treatment for the cancer, not the HIV. Doctors weren’t clear on why the patient hadn’t started ART when he was first diagnosed with the disease.
The donor had a genetic mutation known as CCR5 delta 32, which is a gene that provides a resistance against HIV.
The head of the HIV/AIDS division at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci, 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, as the only other person to be cured of HIV.
Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and quickly started antiretroviral treatment. Eventually he 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.
To this day he still doesn’t take antiretroviral treatment yet remains essentially cured.
While this newest patient might not unlock the cure to the disease that has taken the lives of millions of people, it does give hope to researchers that someday soon some kind of similar cure can be found.