Scientists believe that an anonymous patient in London, England may have been "cured" of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), after a stem-cell transplant seemingly cleared him of the virus. Although it's too soon to officially say this patient is "cured," researchers say the case is promising and a game-changer.
This is only the second time this has happened in the history of the global AIDS epidemic, and it’s thanks to a complex treatment that was initially used in 2009 on someone who was referred to as "the Berlin patient." Now, with the recent success of "the London patient," there’s hope that this procedure can be replicated for other HIV patients.
The major breakthrough can be traced to a stem-cell transplant that replaces white blood cells in bone marrow with healthy ones from a donor whose blood contains a specific genetic mutation that makes them resistant to HIV, according to a report published in the journal Nature. (The London patient and the Berlin patient both had blood cancer as well as HIV.) Once the transplant was completed, HIV essentially vanished. Now 18 months since the treatment, the London patient is HIV-free and not taking medication.
"I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime," the London patient told The New York Times in an email. He also expressed that he feels a "sense of responsibility" to help doctors so future patients can be treated, too. In truth, the treatment may not be ideal for all people with HIV, only those who also have cancer. "If you’re well, the risk of having a bone-marrow transplant is far greater than the risk of staying on [HIV medications] every day," Graham Cooke, a clinical researcher at Imperial College London, told Nature.
Nevertheless, this medical accomplishment opens the door for similar genetic therapies to be used on other patients. And it provides a sense of hope for the millions of people living with HIV around the world.