‘Never gave up hope’: Cancer patient cured of HIV speaks out

California man Paul Edmonds is in long term HIV and cancer remission
Image: City of Hope

Paul Edmonds was 33 years old when he received his positive HIV diagnosis in San Francisco in September 1988.

Throughout the 1980s, the California man cried as he read the obituaries of many of his friends in the local newspaper.

“People were dying within a few years of finding out they were positive,” Paul said, describing the “dark cloud” over San Francisco in the 80s.

When he was diagnosed with HIV himself, Paul thought he’d received a death sentence. But he spent the next 30 years living with HIV, taking the crucial medications to manage the virus.

Now, he’s one of just a handful of people “cured” of HIV after undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat cancer.

In August 2018, Paul received a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome. It later developed into acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Paul needed a stem cell bone marrow transplant from a donor to beat cancer.

But his medical team gave him some interesting news: they would match him with a stem cell donor who carries a rare genetic mutation.

The donor’s genetic abnormality blocks HIV from entering cells and offers natural resistance to the virus.

‘I never gave up and never felt hopeless’

The risky bone marrow transplant was a success, and Paul Edmonds has been off his medications and HIV free for almost two years now.

Last year, Paul was pseudonymously dubbed the “City of Hope patient” after the California treatment centre where he received the treatment.

“Even though I knew AML could be fatal, I never once believed that I would not make it. I never gave up, and I never felt hopeless,” Paul said.

“I’m very thankful for that wonderful person who donated those stem cells. I can’t thank him enough for what he did. He saved my life.

“A big reason I want to tell my story is to bring some hope for people with HIV. And I want to remember all those we lost.”

First man cured, Timothy Ray Brown, died of cancer in 2020

Experts stress the transplant approach is very dangerous and potentially fatal. It’s not an ethical nor practical “cure” for HIV, but is valuable to HIV researchers.

Of the five people in the world who’ve achieved remission for both diseases after receiving a transplant with the rare mutation, Paul Edmonds was the oldest. Paul had also been living with HIV the longest.

The first was the “Berlin patient” Timothy Ray Brown. Timothy sadly died in 2020 when his cancer returned.

Today, HIV is a manageable chronic condition

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

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

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

In 2022, 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 a simpler alternative to daily pills.

There’s similar steps forward in HIV prevention, with long-acting injectables developed as an alternative to daily PrEP pills.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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