After a groundbreaking treatment, researchers have announced that a 53-year-old man in Germany has officially been cured of HIV. That’s right, cured!
The man — whom doctors refer to as the “the Dusseldorf patient” to protect his privacy — is the fifth person to have a confirmed cured case of HIV. Researchers announced he has no detectable virus in his body, even after stopping his HIV medication four years ago.
The Duesseldorf patient’s apparent success was shared last July at the International AIDS conference in Montreal, but researchers have officially confirmed the cure now.
“It’s really cure, and not just, you know, long term remission," Dr. Bjorn-Erik Ole Jensen, who presented details of the case in a new publication in Nature Medicine, said. “This obviously positive symbol makes hope, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
The stem cell transplant is a risky and complicated procedure — often too risky to offer as a cure for everyone with HIV. It’s also difficult to achieve, as the HIV-resistant gene mutation is only carried in 1% of the total population.
That being said, each time scientists cure a new case, they are given invaluable insights to lead them closer to a cure for everyone.
Marshall Glesby, infectious disease specialist and coauthor of a recent HIV cure study told PBS: “There is incremental progress being made in terms of our understanding of where the virus hides within the body and potential ways to purge it from those sites.”
What is HIV and who does it impact?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a disease that enters and destroys the cells of the immune system, and without intervention, can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which makes it nearly impossible for someone to even fight a small infection.
About 38.4 million people around the globe live with HIV, and while modern medication can keep the virus at bay, inequities in healthcare and comorbidities can make it difficult to support everyone with the virus.
About half of HIV/AIDS cases are in eastern and southern Africa, but the impact of the virus is far-reaching. In other nations — like the United States — HIV/AIDS is closely associated with homosexuality, leading to higher instances of homophobia and violence. The stigma surrounding HIV results in people avoiding testing or treatment.
That being said, advocacy and fundraising have made an enormous impact on the decline of HIV/AIDS-related deaths worldwide.
Work is also being done to reduce HIV transmission through better access to testing, education campaigns for condom and needle use, and drug treatment and prevention therapies like antiretroviral therapy (ART) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Beyond treatment and prevention, there is more work behind-the-scenes, even outside of these five isolated cured cases, to find a cure for HIV and beat both the stigma and the illness itself.
What progress has been made to cure HIV?
Outside of these stem cell therapies, a number of ongoing HIV research brings us closer and closer to a cure.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have also created an in vivo injection, which uses genetically engineered white blood cells that secrete neutralizing antibodies that destroy HIV. Though this research has only gone through animal trials, it has shown efficacy in disease models that could be replicated in humans.