Another person likely ‘cured’ of HIV after risky cancer treatment


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Image: US Government

Scientists have reported that another person appears to be among just a handful of people “cured” of HIV after a risky stem cell transplant to treat cancer.

The 66-year-old American man, named the “City of Hope patient” after his California treatment centre, has been in remission from HIV for 17 months.

The patient has lived with the virus since the 1980s. He developed leukaemia at the age of 63.

In 2019, the patient underwent the risky bone marrow transplant that sent his cancer into remission and also appears to have eradicated HIV from his body.

The bone marrow donor had a very rare genetic abnormality that blocks HIV from entering cells and offering natural resistance to the virus.

However experts stress that the transplant is highly toxic and potentially fatal, and is not an ethical nor practical “cure” for HIV.

It effectively involves the destruction of a person’s immune system, with the donor’s immune system gradually replacing it.

Doctors can only perform the transplant on someone already facing a potentially fatal blood cancer or similar health condition.

‘I never thought I would live to see the day’

This approach has shown apparent success in four other such patients in the past, including the late “Berlin patient” Timothy Ray Brown. However the City of Hope patient is the oldest.

“I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988. Like many others, I thought it was a death sentence,” he said.

“I never thought I would live to see the day that I no longer have HIV. I am beyond grateful.”

The case was presented at this week’s International AIDS Conference.

Researchers stress they need to monitor the City of Hope Patient for longer before they definitively declare he is HIV-free.

Australian infectious diseases specialist Dr Sharon Lewin explained such a transplant “is not an option for most people with HIV”.

But the Peter Doherty Institute researcher said “these cases are still interesting, still inspiring and illuminate the search for a cure.”

Spanish woman in HIV remission, and scientists want to know why

In another case presented at the conference, Spanish researchers announced a woman who received an immune-boosting regiment since 2006 may be experiencing viral remission.

The woman is not “cured” and is still living with the virus. However her immune system has held it back from replicating for more than 15 years.

But researchers stressed much more research was needed to understand why that’s occurred and how others could benefit.

The immune-boosting therapy the Spanish woman received failed in all participants in a clinical trial but her.

People living with HIV can suppress virus and can’t pass it on

For decades, a “cure” for HIV has remained elusive. The virus is able to “hide” in cells that enter a resting, or latent, state.

Antiretroviral treatment can only attack the virus when the infected cells are active. The “resting” cells hide the HIV under the radar.

If antiretrovirals are interrupted, the HIV returns to repopulate the body with the virus.

However thanks to modern medical advances, HIV is now a manageable chronic disease and those living with it live long, healthy lives.

Modern medication reduces viral load to a level so low the virus is “undetectable”. This means they can no longer transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

This year, the first long-acting HIV injectable treatment Cabenuva was added to Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The injection, given every two months, suppresses the virus and is an easier alternative to daily pills.

Similar steps forward are also being made in HIV prevention, replacing daily PrEP pills with long-acting injectables.

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