Researchers say a sixth person with HIV possibly ‘cured’

Dr Sharon Lewin from the Peter Doherty Institute is President of International AIDS Society
International AIDS Society President Dr Sharon Lewin

Scientists say a European man has joined only half a dozen people in the world “cured” of HIV after a stem cell transplant, but with one crucial difference.

The man, known as the “Geneva patient,” was diagnosed with HIV in 1990. He began taking antiretroviral treatment in the 2000s, the medication that suppresses the virus.

In 2018, he received a diagnosis of rare blood cancer known as an extramedullary myeloid tumour.

Doctors treated him with radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Following the transplant, the man stopped taking antiretroviral medication. Twenty months later, the virus has not rebounded and is still undetectable in his blood.

Without medication, researchers expect the virus to re-emerge after a few months. But in the Geneva Patient it hasn’t and he’s in “long-term remission”.

Five other people, with both HIV and cancer, had the same outcome after receiving similar stem cell transplants.

But the Geneva Patient is different. Unlike the others, his stem cell donor did not have a rare genetic mutation that offers a natural immunity to HIV.

The stem cell transplant is a risky, expensive and brutal procedure, and is not a practical option for most with HIV.

But researchers are very interested in the cases, hoping they lead to breakthroughs in eradicating HIV from the body.

New remission case helps in the work towards cure

Experts will present the Geneva Patient’s case at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Brisbane, starting this weekend.

Researchers say they’re still figuring out what has occurred. French scientist Asier Saez-Cirion said it was possible the transplant itself eliminated all the infected cells. He couldn’t rule out the HIV eventually rebounding.

But he said no sign of the virus after 12 months significantly increases the probability it will stay undetectable, AFP reported.

International AIDS Society President Dr Sharon Lewin (pictured above) said the new viral remission case is “great news”.

“But we learned from [other] patients that even a single particle of the virus can lead to HIV rebounding,” she told AFP.

“This particular individual will need to be watched closely over the next months and years.”

But his case and others “help in many ways in the work toward a cure” for HIV, Dr Lewin said.

Read more: Australia on track to ‘virtually eliminate’ HIV transmission

Thanks to modern medical advances, HIV is now a manageable health condition 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 made it onto Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

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

There are similar steps forward in HIV prevention. Long-acting injectables are emerging as an easier 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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