Man cured of HIV and cancer after stem cell transplant: Doctors

A 66-year-old man diagnosed with HIV in 1988 is said to be free of both HIV and cancer, after a stem cell transplant from an unrelated leukemia donor, according to a breakthrough announcement at the International AIDS Conference in Montreal Canada.

The organization said the patient was treated at City of Hope, one of the largest cancer research and treatment institutions in the United States and one of the leading research centers for diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

The City of Hope patient is said to be the world’s fourth and oldest patient to have been on long-term treatment for HIV without antiretroviral therapy (ART) for more than a year after receiving stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation.

Decker, an associate clinical professor in the department of infectious diseases at City of Hope who provided the data, said in a press release.

According to City of Hope, the patient received a transplant regimen based on low-intensity chemotherapy prior to the stem cell transplant. “Low-intensity chemotherapy makes the transplant more tolerable for older patients and reduces the potential for transplant-related complications from the procedure,” the organization said in the statement.

City of Hope said the patient received a blood stem cell transplant in City of Hope in early 2019 to treat acute myelogenous leukemia from an unrelated donor who has a rare genetic mutation. This mutation makes infected people resistant to acquiring certain strains of HIV.

CCR5 is a receptor on CD4+ immune cells, and HIV uses this receptor to enter and attack the immune system. But the CCR5 mutation blocks this pathway, preventing HIV from entering cells and thus multiplying.

The organization said that the City of Hope patient had shown no evidence of HIV replication since the transplant.

“We are proud to have played a role in helping the City of Hope patient reach recovery from HIV and leukemia. It is humbling to know that our pioneering science in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation, along with our pursuit of the best precision medicine in cancer, Help change the life of this patient,” Robert Stone, President and CEO of City of Hope, said in a statement.

While the announcement offers hope to the millions of people living with HIV, medical experts have warned that a procedure like this is not a successful treatment for the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged caution in February after researchers announced that an American woman had been cured of HIV after undergoing a new transplant using donated umbilical cord blood.

“It’s not practical to think that this is something that will be widely available,” Fauci said. “It’s more than proof of concept.”

Because a bone marrow transplant is a dangerous and risky procedure, it is unethical to perform it on people with HIV, unless the person also has cancer and needs a transplant as part of their cancer treatment.

Despite the fact that this is not a widely applicable, practical HIV treatment, there have been incredible strides in HIV treatment and innovation over the years that allow HIV-infected individuals to lead normal, healthy lives.

Known as U = U, or Undetectable = Untransmitable, if someone with HIV starts appropriate HIV treatment, takes it daily and brings the virus in their body to an undetectable level, the individual cannot transmit the virus to someone as long as The virus has levels remain undetectable in said treatment or drug.

In December 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first long-acting injectable drug to prevent HIV.

Until then, the only drugs licensed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for HIV prevention or pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP, were daily pills, which prevent HIV from entering cells in the body and thus prevent infection. When taken as prescribed, PrEP services reduce the risk of HIV infection from sex by about 99%, according to new data from the CDC.

The least reliable, although still highly effective, method for preventing HIV infection is post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP. These pills are meant to be taken right away or within 72 hours if someone has been exposed or likely to be exposed to HIV to try to prevent the virus from entering the immune cells causing the infection. It’s like an emergency HIV prevention pill and should be taken daily for 28 days.

Now, individuals who feel at risk of contracting HIV have the option of taking a daily pill, or a new injection every two months, after two initial injections taken for one month.

On the vaccine front, Moderna recently announced that it has launched early clinical trials of an mRNA vaccine for HIV. ABC News previously reported that the biotech company had teamed up with the nonprofit International AIDS Vaccine Initiative to develop the shot, which uses the same technology as Moderna’s successful COVID-19 vaccine.

ABC News’ Eric Strauss, Sonny Salzman and Jennifer Watts contributed to this report.

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