A fourth person has gone into long-term remission of HIV, doctors at City of Hope Hospital in California have announced. The patient had leukemia and received stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation. The 66-year-old individual received the treatment 3 and a half years ago, making him the oldest person to ever go into remission for both blood cancer and HIV.
Of the 37.7 million people living with HIV, only three others have gone into long-term remission. There is still no cure for the virus, but antiretroviral drugs suppress it to a level that becomes undetectable. This lets HIV-positive people have a healthy life span and stop them from passing the virus on. This is known as U=U, undetectable equals untransmittable.
Stigma and financial barriers often stop people from accessing these antiretroviral drugs. The 66-year-old patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, had HIV for 31 years. He stopped taking antiretroviral drugs 17 months ago, and the virus did not resurface in his system. The findings are to be presented at the conference AIDS 2022.
“We were thrilled to let him know that his HIV is in remission and he no longer needs to take antiretroviral therapy that he had been on for over 30 years,” Dr Jana Dickter, a clinical professor who will present the work, said in a statement. “He saw many of his friends die from AIDS in the early days of the disease and faced so much stigma when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988. But now, he can celebrate this medical milestone. We can find no evidence of replicating HIV in his system.”
The patient went through a complicated procedure to achieve remission from acute myeloid leukemia, with three different therapies before the transplant. People often achieve leukemia remission with just one therapy, but this wasn’t the case here. The therapies and transplant delivered a result so successfully that researchers describe it as profound.
“Because this patient was the oldest to receive a stem cell transplant [of the four patients], has lived the longest with HIV prior to his transplant, and received the least immunosuppressive therapy, we now have evidence that if the right stem cell donor is found for patients living with HIV who develop blood cancers, we can use newer and less intensive chemotherapy regimen options to try to achieve a dual remission. This may open up whole new opportunities for older patients living with HIV and blood cancer,” Dickter explained.