- Two other patients have been announced as functionally “cured” of HIV during AIDS 2022.
- A male patient underwent a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-immunized donor.
- The other person, a woman, has an “atypical” number of special cells that may attack HIV, making them the “elite controlling” the infection.
Scientists announced at the AIDS Expo 2022 this week in Montreal, that two more HIV-positive patients have been “cured” of HIV.
One person has cancer, and the other is a woman who appears to have a mysterious and special innate ability to control the virus, after treatment.
The two discoveries – though both still very rare – represent a distinct ray of hope for HIV/AIDS researchers searching for a cure for the disease, achieved through two very different mechanisms. Scientists prefer to say that these people are in a state of “long-term recovery”, as we cannot be certain that the treatments are permanent. However, both new cases have little (if any) evidence of HIV replication in their bodies for several years, which is a good sign that this is not a temporary solution.
Many other cases such as these two patients have been observed worldwide in recent years, and the pace of these two distinct signs of “treatments” is accelerating.
Treatment #1: A special kind of cancer treatment
The first patient deemed to have been functionally cured of HIV was an unidentified man referred to as the “City of Hope” patient (named after the California Cancer Center where he was treated for leukemia).
The ‘treatment’ reported by the City of Hope patient is the result of a kind of double whammy against cancer and HIV: using bone marrow transplantation with HIV-resistant cells. The patient, aged 66, had been HIV positive for 31 years when he underwent a leukemia transplant at age 63.
His doctor, Jana Decker, said he had “no evidence of HIV replication” in his body during a presentation Monday at the AIDS 2022 conference in Montreal.
“The purpose of this transplant was to treat his leukemia,” she said, but the same strategy could work for others diagnosed with leukemia and HIV in the future.
There are at least two other men who have been effectively ‘cured’ of HIV through similar bone marrow transplants – the Berlin patient (in 2007) and the London patient (announced in 2019). In February, a New York woman became the first woman with leukemia believed to have been “probably” cured of HIV, using a new umbilical cord blood transplant, as well as for leukemia.
In all of these reported cases, patients were treated for cancer with transplants of HIV-resistant blood cells obtained from donors with special mutations to eliminate the virus. There is also another man from Düsseldorf, Germany who appears to have been treated in a similar manner, but his doctors have been more cautious about publishing his condition in the medical literature.
Decker said that while treating the City of Hope patient would not be a widespread treatment for all people living with HIV worldwide, “we are seeing more leukemias” in elderly HIV-positive patients in the United States now, and this strategy could to help some of them.
Cure #2: ‘Elite’ Control of Disease Naturally
Another “cure” for HIV announced in AIDS 2022 was a woman in Spain who had been essentially HIV-free for 15 years, after ending treatment with common antiretroviral drugs for HIV. (Usually, when patients give up their HIV drugs, they recover.)
She is believed to be part of an extraordinary group of people around the world called the “control elite” whose bodies naturally attack and suppress HIV, in some cases even completely eradicated without drugs.
Dr. Nuria Clement Vidal from Barcelona said that the total HIV-1 DNA of the unknown patient was reduced by 98%.
“She may have special genetic factors,” Vidal said Sunday at the conference, adding that the patient had an “atypical” number of special natural killer cells that might attack HIV.
Although it is not known exactly how many of these elite controls are worldwide, at least two additional cases of what is believed to be natural control of HIV have emerged in recent years.
There is no trace of the virus in the body of Lauren Willenberg of California, dubbed an “elite observer” who contracted HIV in 1992. Another woman, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2013 in Argentina, has a similar case of control. natural. Her daughter, born in 2020, is HIV-free, a feat that can only be achieved through antiretroviral drug (ART) treatment during pregnancy.
The results of the Elite Monitor – whether achieved with or without drugs – are arguably even more exciting for the tens of millions of people living with HIV worldwide who do not have leukemia. Dr. Bruce Walker, an HIV researcher at the Ragon Institute in Massachusetts, said in 2020, the mechanism that works for elite control, while still a bit mysterious, “can be translated to other people.”