The Düsseldorf patient has no detectable virus in his body, even after stopping HIV medication four years ago.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 25, 2023. It has since been updated.
A 53-year-old man in Germany has been cured of HIV, say researchers. "The Düsseldorf patient" is the fifth confirmed case of an HIV cure after successful treatments that were first announced at a conference in 2019. According to ABC, The patient has no detectable virus in his body even after stopping HIV medication four years ago. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a lifelong infection and never fully eradicated. It is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection and diseases. But thanks to modern medicine and technology, people with HIV are hopeful to live healthier and longer lives.
"It’s really cure, and not just, you know, long-term remission," said Dr. Bjorn-Erik Ole Jensen, who presented details of the case in a new publication of "Nature Medicine." The patient from Düsseldorf joins a group of individuals who have been cured following a stem cell transplant, which is generally performed in cancer patients who do not have any other options. A high-risk procedure called a stem cell transplant can successfully replace a person's immune system. The main objective is to treat cancer, but in a few cases, the procedure has also been successful in curing HIV. Timothy Ray Brown was the first person who was cured of HIV, calling him the Berlin patient in 2009, followed by the London patient in 2019. Most recently, The City of Hope and New York patients in 2022.
“I think we can get a lot of insights from this patient and from these similar cases of HIV cure," Jensen said. "These insights give us some hints where we could go to make the strategy safer." These four patients underwent stem cell transplants for their blood cancer treatment. Their donors had the same HIV-resistant mutation protein called CCR5. Only 1% of the total population carries this genetic mutation making them resistant to HIV. “When you hear about these HIV cures, it’s, you know, incredible, given how challenging it’s been. But, it remains the exception to the rule," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, a director at South Shore Health.
Researchers revealed an American, described as middle-aged woman of mixed race, has likely been cured of HIV after undergoing a new transplant procedure using donated umbilical cord blood.— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) February 17, 2022
Dr. Todd Ellerin calls it "promising step in the right direction." https://t.co/GgZekwvdlD pic.twitter.com/V61Fk4gZUy
Stem cell transplantation can be dangerous and is too risky to offer a cure for everyone with HIV. However, with valuable research insights and understanding, scientists are hopeful each time they cure a new patient. “It is obviously a step forward in advancing the science and having us sort of understanding, in some ways, what it takes to cure HIV," said Ellerin. Timothy Ray Brown nearly died after two rounds of full-dose chemotherapy and full-body radiation, as reported by NBC. Both he and Adam Castillejo, the 'London Patient,' suffered inflammatory reactions to their treatment called graft-versus-host disease.
The virus seems extremely difficult to cure, with only five possibly cured of HIV because it infects long-lived immune cells that enter a latent state. These resting cells, collectively known as the viral reservoir, capable of staying latent for years, go untreated since antiretroviral therapy only targets HIV when infected cells produce new viral copies. These cells can become active and repopulate the body with viruses if the antiretrovirals are interrupted.