Third person ‘cured’ of HIV after receiving stem cell cancer treatment End-shutdown

A man has no signs of active HIV infection after receiving stem cells from a donor who is resistant to the virus.


February 20, 2023

HIV (green) infecting an immune cell

C. Goldsmith/CDC

A 53-year-old man from Düsseldorf, Germany, has been declared HIV-cured by doctors after a blood stem cell transplant to treat leukemia, the third case of its kind.

The man has no signs of active infection four years after he stopped taking antiretroviral drugs. “We don’t believe there is a functional virus present,” he says Björn Jensen at the Düsseldorf University Hospital.

The “Düsseldorf patient” tested positive for HIV in 2008. In 2011 he developed leukemia which was treated with chemotherapy, but it recurred the following year. So, in 2013, the blood stem cells in the man’s bone marrow that give rise to immune cells, including cancer cells, were killed by chemotherapy and then replaced by donor blood stem cells.

Crucially, the doctors found a donor with a mutation that disables the CCR5 receptor that HIV uses to infect immune cells. This transplant made the man’s immune system resistant to HIV.

In 2017, the team was able to stop giving him immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection of the donor cells, and in November 2018, antiretroviral treatment was discontinued.

Two other people treated for cancer were previously reported to have been cured of HIV in the same way. However, because bone marrow transplantation is risky, and because drug treatment can keep the virus in check, it will never be used to treat HIV alone.

An alternative approach being explored is to use gene editing to mutate the CCR5 gene in the immune systems of HIV-positive people.

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