A stem cell transplant cured a German man with HIV who thus became the third person to gain back his health thanks to this treatment, and scientists are hoping that this achievement will help cure other patients dealing with the fatal illness.
“I think we can get a lot of insights from this patient and from these similar cases of HIV cure,” explains Bjorn-Erik Ole Jensen, a virologist at Düsseldorf University and first author of the study. “These insights give us some hints where we could go to make the strategy safer.”
“The Düsseldorf patient” is a 53-year-old man diagnosed with HIV in 2008 and leukemia in 2011. In 2013, the cancer treatment took place, starting with chemotherapy to kill the blood stem cells in his bone marrow where cancerous cells are generated. He then received the transplant, and the donated stem cells meant to replace the eliminated ones had a mutation that made them resistant to HIV. In 2018, he stopped taking antiretroviral therapies (ART) and has shown no signs of an active infection. Human immunodeficiency virus attacks the body’s immune system and weakens its defense against illnesses. If life expectancy rarely exceeded a year after a diagnosis in the 1980s, it is today close to normal, thanks to ART. Some 38 million people live with HIV, and stem cell transplants further the search for a global cure for the autoimmune disease.