A London man has been free of HIV for 18 months after a stem cell transplant, which is now the second success to include the “Berlin patient,” doctors say. The therapy was previously used for Timothy Ray Brown, a U.S. man that was treated using the transplant in Germany in 2007 and is still free of HIV.
The patient has not yet been identified, but it is reported that he was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and began taking medication to control the virus in 2012. He developed Hodgkin lymphoma the same year and agreed to a stem cell transplant to treat cancer in 2016.
Doctors figured with the appropriate donor, the London patient might not only get treatment for his cancer but a possible HIV cure as well. The donor doctors found had a gene mutation that has a natural resistance to HIV. Research shows about 1% of people descended from northern Europe have inherited the mutation from both parents and are immune to most HIV. The donor had this double copy of the mutation; great news for the London patient.
The transplant changed the London patient’s immune system, giving him the donor’s mutation and HIV resistance. To see if the virus would come back, the patient voluntarily stopped taking his HIV drugs. Typically, when a patient stops taking their meds, the virus comes back in two to three weeks because HIV patients are expected to stay on daily medication for life to suppress the virus.
That didn’t happen with the London patient, as there is still no trace of the virus after 18 months off the drugs.
Timothy Ray Brown told The Associated Press he would like to meet the London patient and encourage him to go public because “it’s been very useful for science and for giving hope to HIV-positive people, to people living with HIV.” Dr. Gero Hutter, the German doctor who treated Brown, called the new case “great news” and “one piece in the HIV cure puzzle.”