Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for the treatment of serious blood cancers is the only medical intervention that has cured two people living with HIV in the past. An international group of doctors and researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and the United States has just identified another case in which the HIV infection was found to be cured of the same way. In a study published this week in natural medicinein which scientists from DZIF Hamburg and Cologne played a leading role, the successful recovery process of this third patient was for the first time characterized in detail virologically and immunologically over a period of ten years.
An infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was previously considered incurable. The reason for this is that the virus “sleeps” in the genome of infected cells for long periods of time, making it invisible and inaccessible to both the immune system and antiviral drugs. The “Dusseldorf patient”, a 53-year-old man, is now the third person in the world to be completely cured of the HI virus by a stem cell transplant.
The patient, treated at Düsseldorf University Hospital for his HIV infection, had received a stem cell transplant due to blood cancer. As in the cases of the first two patients named “Berlin” and “London”, the Düsseldorf patient received stem cells from a healthy donor whose genome contains a mutation in the HIV-1 CCR5 co-receptor gene. This mutation prevents most HI viruses from entering human CD4+ T cells, their main target cells.
Following the transplant, the patient underwent careful virological and immunological monitoring for almost ten years. Using a variety of sensitive techniques, the researchers analyzed the patient’s blood and tissue samples to closely monitor immune responses to HIV and the continued presence or even replication of the virus. Already shortly after transplantation and throughout the years of study, neither replicating virus, nor antibodies, nor reactive immune cells against HIV were detected. More than four years ago, antiviral therapy for HIV was discontinued. Ten years after the transplant and four years after the end of anti-HIV therapy, the Düsseldorf patient could be declared cured by the international research consortium.
“This case of curing a chronic HIV infection by stem cell transplantation shows that HIV can in principle be cured,” says Professor Julian Schulze zur Wiesch, DZIF scientist at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and the one of the study leaders. “In particular, the results of this study are also extremely important for the continued search for a cure for HIV for the vast majority of people living with HIV for whom stem cell transplantation is not an option. »