We’ve got two more cases of people either being cured of HIV or stopping the spread. But experts say that the risk is still too great.
The International AIDS Society meeting was held on Wednesday, and the meeting came with some exciting news. A 66-year-old American was cured of HIV. This makes them the oldest and the firth person in the world to be rid of the virus, according to PopSci. Meanwhile, another person, a woman who received immune-boosting therapy, is in long-term viral remission.
“When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, like many others, I thought it was a death sentence,” the cured patient said in a statement from the hospital. “I never thought I would live to see the day that I no longer have HIV.”
Unfortunately, these cases of curing HIV are so rare because they involve rare circumstances. In all the previous cases, patients received bone marrow transplants from donors with a rare genetic mutation that makes immune cells naturally resistant to HIV. For this new American patient, identified simply as the City of Hope patient, he received a stem cell transplant in 2019 with the same mutation.
The thing is, only 1 in 100 people of Northern European ancestry have the key mutation needed for this procedure. And the therapies were not meant for HIV initially but to treat other illness. The City of Hope patient, for instance, got the procedure because he has myeloid leukemia.
Plus, there is a strong risk of complications or death with the surgery. The City of Hope patient is currently undergoing treatment for painful mouth ulcers because the donor steam cells are attacking his tissues. Then lastly, these procedures don’t always work in permanently curing HIV. Two previous cases of seemingly cured patients resulted in the infection returning years later.
That said, the announcements of these cured patients are great for morale in the fight against HIV. While they aren’t a solution, they are an encouragement that solutions are out there. We just have to keep researching.
“These cases are still interesting, still inspiring, and illuminate the search for a cure,” said Sharon Lewin, an infectious disease specialist, said per NBC News, though she noted how the procedures are not a solution for everyone.
And, again, the meeting also noted that a woman from Spain has been reportedly in long-term viral remission. In this case, she was randomly selected within a clinical trial for antiretroviral medication for an additional study. The female participant was asked to do four immune-boosting treatments over 11 months. Once taken off the medications, researchers found the woman’s immune system prevented the virus from spreading for 15 years. While she was still, unfortunately, infected with HIV, the trial had prevented it from growing.
With this case, Dr. Juan Ambrosioni, an HIV physician from Barcelona, noted that research has made progress in finding a cure.
“It’s great to have such a gaze,” Ambrosioni said, noting that “the point is to understand what is going on and to see if this can be replicated in other people.”
So, we have some success stories with cautious notes attached to them. But they are steps in the right direction. Who knows how they will help us find a universal cure to HIV?