2 Patients Appear to Have Defeated HIV

Progress has slowed since COVID surfaced, researchers say
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2022 4:09 PM CDT
2 Patients Appear to Have Defeated HIV
This electron microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health shows a human T cell, in blue, under attack by HIV, in yellow, the virus that causes AIDS.   (Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH via AP)

Two more people seem to have successfully fought off an HIV infection. The victories provide a boost to the battle against AIDS, which has lost resources in recent years, in part because of the rise of COVID-19. Doctors treating a 66-year-old man at City of Hope in Southern California said they've seen no sign of human immunodeficiency virus that can replicate in his body since March 2021, the Wall Street Journal reports. That's when he stopped antiretroviral drug therapy after receiving a transplant of stem cells with a rare genetic mutation that blocks HIV infection. He was given the transplant for leukemia; people with HIV have a higher risk of developing the cancer.

The other patient is a woman in Spain who's in her 70s. The patient has dormant HIV in some cells, doctors say, but the amount is dropping, and the virus isn’t replicating. She ceased antiretroviral therapy more than 15 years ago. A doctor in Barcelona said research indicates the woman keeps HIV under control naturally, with high levels of two types of immune cells that the virus normally suppresses. They apparently help control viral replication, the doctor said. Experts call it a "functional cure," per the Journal; the virus hasn't been eliminated from the patient's system but is under control without medication. Several people now appear to have been cured of HIV.

The transplant can't be used for all the 38.4 million people worldwide with HIV, said Sharon Lewin, an expert not involved in either case. It's a risky procedure that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the success is informing the work of scientists. "There are fancy new gene editing methods emerging that might one day be able to achieve a similar outcome with a shot in the arm," said Steven Deeks, a University of California professor working on a cure. Lewin said the two cases provide "hope for people living with HIV and inspiration for the scientific community." It's needed, a UNAIDS official said. COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine are among the reasons. "The last two years of crises have really blown the global AIDS response off track," he said. (More HIV stories.)

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