A stem cell transplant has cured a man of HIV, researchers have announced. The “Düsseldorf patient”, a 53-year-old man from Germany, is now the third person in the world to be completely cured of the HIV virus.
The patient treated at the Düsseldorf University Hospital for his HIV infection had received a stem cell transplant for blood cancer. As in the cases of the first two patients named “Berlin” and “London”, the Düsseldorf patient received stem cells from a healthy donor whose genome contained a mutation in the gene for the HIV-1 co-receptor CCR5. This mutation makes it impossible for most HIV viruses to enter human CD4+ T lymphocytes, their most important target cells.
Following the transplantation, the patient was carefully monitored virologically and immunologically for almost ten years. The researchers analyzed the patient’s blood and tissue samples using a wide variety of sensitive techniques in order to closely monitor and detect both the course of the immune responses against HIV and the continued presence or even multiplication of the virus.
Shortly after transplantation and over the course of the study years, neither virus capable of replication, nor antibodies or reactive immune cells against HIV were detected. More than four years ago, the antiviral therapy against HIV was discontinued. Ten years after the transplantation and more than four years after the end of the anti-HIV therapy, the international research consortium was able to declare the Düsseldorf patient cured.
“This case of healing of a chronic HIV infection through stem cell transplantation shows that HIV can in principle be cured,” says Prof. Julian Schulze zur Wiesch, DZIF scientist at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf and one of the study leaders. “The results of this study are extremely important, especially for further research into a cure for HIV for the vast majority of those affected, for whom stem cell transplantation is not an option.”
The patient said in a statement that he was “proud of my worldwide team of doctors who succeeded in curing me of HIV — and at the same time, of course, of leukaemia”.
An infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was previously considered incurable. The reason for this is that the virus “sleeps” in the genome of infected cells for long periods of time, making it invisible and inaccessible to both the immune system and antiviral drugs.