Announced at a medical conference in Seattle on Tuesday, a man in Germany, known only as “the Düsseldorf patient once living with HIV appears to be free of the virus following a medical procedure intended to treat cancer.
He is the third man to become HIV -free.
A man known as the “Berlin patient” was the first person to become HIV-free after cancer treatment, back in 2007. To treat his leukemia – a cancer of the immune system – he was given a treatment that involved killing nearly all his immune cells with radiotherapy or drugs, and then replacing them with cells from a donor. This donor was naturally resistant to HIV, thanks to a rare but natural mutation in a gene called CCR5.
On Monday (March 4), researchers announced that a U.K. man — known as the “London patient” — was HIV-free following a bone marrow transplant. The London patient was then the only the second person ever reported to experience long-term remission from the virus without the need for medication
Researchers are tracking the few other people who have HIV and have then had a bone marrow transplant from someone with the CCR5 mutation in a collaboration called IciStem. As well as the three reported so far, there are two others who haven’t yet stopped taking antiviral medications, says Javier Martinez-Picado of the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona.
Unfortunately one marrow transplants can’t be used for people with HIV who don’t have cancer, because they carry considerable risks and are only used as a last resort. But the fact that the approach seems to work could point the way to other strategies for a cure. Bit one possible method might be to use gene editing to mutate the CCR5 gene in a person’s own immune cells.
Dare we hope and dream.