The oldest patient to date has been cured of HIV after undergoing a stem cell transplant for leukemia, researchers reported on Wednesday.
While the transplant was planned to treat the now 66-year-old leukemia, doctors also sought a donor that is naturally resistant to the virus that causes AIDS, a mechanism that initially worked for the “Berlin patient”, Timothy Ray Brown, in 2007.
The last patient, the fourth to be treated in this way, is known as the “City of Hope” patient after the US facility in Duarte, California, where he was treated, as he did not want to be identified.
In addition to being the oldest, the patient also had the longest HIV infection, having been diagnosed in 1988 with what he described as a “death sentence” that killed many of his friends.
He has been on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for more than 30 years.
Doctors who provided the data before the 2022 International AIDS Society (IAS) meeting said the case has opened the way for older patients with HIV and leukemia to access treatment, especially since the stem cell donor is not a family member.
Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International Science Association, called a cure the “holy grail,” saying the City of Hope cause provides “continuing hope…and inspiration” for people living with HIV and the broader scientific community, even though the treatment has been from It’s not likely to be an option for most people with HIV because of the risks of the procedure.
Scientists believe the process works because the donated individual’s stem cells are a specific and rare genetic mutation which means they lack the receptors that HIV uses to infect the cells.
After the transplant three-and-a-half years ago, which followed chemotherapy, the City of Hope patient stopped taking antiretroviral therapy in March 2021. The team said he has now been in recovery from HIV and leukemia for more than a year.
But ahead of the conference that begins on Friday, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) presented data showing how the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered global efforts to tackle HIV, including reversing progress in the most populous region. Populated in the world, Asia Pacific.
According to the report, the hard-earned progress has stalled, putting millions of lives at risk.
Worldwide, the years-long decline in new HIV infections is stabilizing. Worse, cases are beginning to rise in parts of Asia and the Pacific where they were previously declining, according to the United Nations AIDS Programme.
The number of people receiving life-saving HIV treatments has grown more slowly in the past year than it has in a decade. Inequality is widening. Every two minutes in the past year, a teenage girl or young woman was newly infected, and in sub-Saharan Africa, they are three times as likely to contract HIV as boys and men of the same age. The report found that 650,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses last year.
“This is a wake-up call to the world when he says Covid-19 has blown the AIDS response dramatically off track,” said Matthew Kavanagh, deputy executive director of UNAIDS.
The United Nations has set a target of fewer than 370,000 new HIV infections by 2025. Last year, there were about 1.5 million infections, which means it will take a significant turnaround to get anywhere near that target. However, the report found that low- and middle-income countries are short of $8 billion in needed funding, as international aid has also declined.
Things could be worse given that HIV testing slowed or even stopped in many places when Covid-19 hit, which could leave further spread of the virus unchecked.
“People are exhausted by epidemics and epidemics,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on AIDS in the US government. “We have to fight twice to get HIV back on the radar screen where it belongs.”