The patient has now been free of the HIV virus for 18 months
A man has been cured of HIV following an “improbable” stem cell transplant, becoming only the second patient in history to completely recover from the virus.
The unnamed man, known as the “London patient”, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and started taking drugs to control the virus, which causes AIDS, in 2012.
He developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma the same year and agreed to a stem cell transplant in 2016, aimed at treating the cancer.
Doctors found a donor for the transplant who had a rare gene mutation that confers natural resistance to HIV, in what researchers called an “improbable event”.
Just one per cent of people descended from northern Europeans have inherited the mutation from both parents. They are immune to most HIV.
The donor had a double copy of the mutation.
The scarcity of the genetic quirk is “why this has not been observed more frequently,” Ravindra Gupta, lead researcher at University College London said.
Such transplants are dangerous and have failed in other patients. They are also impractical to try to cure the millions of people already living with HIV.
The treatment transformed the patient’s immune system and he now has the donor’s genetic mutation and resistance to HIV.
He voluntarily stopped taking HIV drugs to see if the virus would return.
Patients with HIV usually take daily pills to stay healthy and when the drugs are stopped the virus usually returns.
This did not happen with the London patient. He has not taken the HIV drugs for 18 months and remains free of the virus.
The procedure has been successful once before with “Berlin Patient” Timothy Ray Brown, a US man treated in Germany 12 years ago.
Mr Brown is still free of HIV and has said that he would like to meet the London patient.
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He said he would encourage the man to speak publicly about the treatment.
“It’s been very useful for science and for giving hope to HIV-positive people, to people living with HIV,” he said.
Dr Gero Hutter, the German doctor who treated Mr Brown, called the new case “great news” and “one piece in the HIV cure puzzle”.
The case was published online by the journal Nature and will be presented at an HIV conference in Seattle.