A man has been cured of HIV after a stem cell transplant, researchers say.
The 53-year-old, known as the Dusseldorf Patient, is just the third person worldwide to be cured of the condition using the treatment.
He has been off anti-retroviral medication (which involves taking drugs to suppress the virus) for four years without relapse.
Almost 10 years after the stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor, and more than four years after ending the HIV therapy, the patient is now in good health.
The man, who was diagnosed in 2008, said: “I still remember very well the sentence of my family doctor: ‘Don’t take it so hard. We will experience together that HIV can be cured.’
“At the time, I dismissed the statement as an alibi. Today, I am all the more proud of my worldwide team of doctors who succeeded in curing me of HIV – and at the same time, of course, of leukaemia.
“On Valentine’s Day this year, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant in a big way. My bone marrow donor was present as a guest of honour.”
The man said he had decided to give up some of his private life to support research fundraising, and fight the stigmatisation of HIV with his story.
They add that the study is the longest and most precise diagnostic monitoring of a patient with HIV after stem cell transplantation.
A stem cell transplant involves destroying any unhealthy blood cells and replacing them with healthy stem cells removed from the blood or bone marrow.
The international research team headed by medics at Dusseldorf University Hospital hope the knowledge they have gained will provide starting points for planning future studies into cures for HIV.
Due to the high risk, stem cell transplants are only carried out within the framework of treating other life-threatening diseases.
Experts suggest research must now be continued to allow patients to overcome HIV infections without the need for this strenuous intervention in the future.
Six months after starting his HIV therapy the Dusseldorf Patient was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a form of life-threatening blood cancer.
He underwent a stem cell transplantation for this disease in 2013.
In 2018, after careful planning and with constant, close monitoring by the team of doctors, the anti-viral HIV therapy – which had ensured any residual HIV was kept under control up to that point – was ended.
On behalf of the international team, Dr Bjorn-Erik Ole Jensen said: “Following our intensive research, we can now confirm that it is fundamentally possible to prevent the replication of HIV on a sustainable basis by combining two key methods.
“On the one hand, we have the extensive depletion of the virus reservoir in long-lived immune cells, and on the other hand, the transfer of HIV resistance from the donor immune system to the recipient, ensuring that the virus has no chance to spread again.
“Further research is now needed into how this can be made possible outside the narrow set of framework conditions we have described.”
The study is published in the Nature Medicine journal.