There's hope for HIV yet. A third patient, called the "Düsseldorf patient," is revealed to be potentially cured of the deadly virus, bolstering evidence for the possibility of an eventual cure in the medical community.
Only 3 People In The World Have Ever Been Cured Of HIV
The Düsseldorf patient, who has been HIV-free for three months without antiviral medication, is in rare company as one of only three people who have successfully been cured of HIV.
This announcement at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle comes just two days after the second person in history was announced to be HIV-free on Monday, March 4. The man dubbed the "London patient" has now been off his antiviral medicines for 18 months and there's been no sign of HIV in his system so far.
New Scientist reports that the Düsseldorf and London cases share stark similarities: both patients underwent bone marrow transplants as part of their cancer treatment, receiving cells from donors with the rare mutation of the gene CCR5. The genetic mutation of CCR5 makes the donor naturally resistant to HIV.
Both cases followed the precedent set by the "Berlin patient," who is the first ever person cured of HIV back in 2007. As part of his treatment for leukemia, which is a cancer of the immune system, his immune cells were destroyed and replaced with donor cells with the mutation.
It had the effect of keeping him free of HIV as well, which is a virus that's known to attack cells in the immune system. Since his transplant, the Berlin patient has remained HIV-free for 12 years and counting.
The two recent cases are part of the IciStem program, which is a collaborative venture of researchers and clinicians dedicated to HIV eradication, according to a release from IciStem.
Other HIV patients from IciStem have also undergone similar bone marrow transplants for cancer, but they have not yet stopped taking the antiviral medications at this point.
Still Not The Long-Awaited HIV Cure (Yet)
While it proved to be successful for the Berlin, London, and Düsseldorf patients, the strategy used for these cases are not the way to eradicate HIV on a large scale.
Researchers say that bone marrow transplants can't be performed on HIV patients who don't have cancer due to the significant risks involved in the procedure. For the same reason, it is used only as a last resort even for cancer patients.
Still, the three successful cases of CCR5 eliminating HIV show a lot of promise, pointing medical experts to a potentially successful direction in developing a cure for the virus.