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Stem Cell Treatment Labels Patients HIV ‘Undetectable’

HIV in a UK London patient has been labelled ‘undetectable’ after a stem cell transplant was carried out.

This is only the ‘second case of its kind’ and the patient - who was being treated for Cancer - has now been in remission from their HIV for 18 months. Researchers have said that it is too early at the moment to determine whether the patient is cured of HIV, however, they are no longer taking prescription drugs for this.

Diagnosed with HIV in 2003, the patient was then diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2012 and alongside chemotherapy, received a stem cell transplant from a donor resistant to HIV, which led to both their cancer and HIV entering into remission.

Ten years ago, a different patient was given a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with natural immunity to the virus, who also saw their HIV go in to remission. However, this patient was given two transplants along with radiotherapy for leukaemia, which is a much more aggressive treatment than the latest patient has received.

Though this does not mean a new treatment has been found for those millions of people living with HIV, as both of the these patients were receiving treatment for Cancer which resulted in their HIV going in to remission, it does provide researchers with insight in to understanding how the human body can naturally resist the infection, and so therefore hope for future treatments.

CCR5 is the most commonly used receptor by HIV-1, however, a small number of people resistant to HIV possess two mutated copies of the CCR5 receptor. This disallows the virus from penetrating the cells in their body that it would usually infect. As the patient from London received stem cells from a donor who had this specific mutation, this caused their HIV to go into remission as it made them resistant to HIV, just like their donor.

Research Professor, Graham Cooke of the National Institute for Health Research labelled the results as “encouraging.” He said, “If we can understand better why the procedure works in some patients and not others, we will be closer to our ultimate goal of curing HIV. At the moment the procedure still carries too much risk to be used in patients who are well otherwise.”

Researchers believe it may be possible to make use of gene therapy to attempt to target the CCR5 receptor in people living with HIV, now they have seen that the original patient’s recovery was not just a one-off case.

Researcher in infectious diseases and honour consultant physician at Cardiff University said, “While this type of treatment is clearly not practical to treat the millions of people around the world living with HIV, reports such as these may help in the ultimate development of a cure for HIV.”

He said that in the meantime, it is important to diagnose people with HIV as early as possible and begin prescribing them with lifelong combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), which can stop the virus being passed to others and also give those living with HIV a ‘near-normal’ life expectancy.


BBC News. ‘UK Patient ‘Free’ of HIV After Stem Cell Treatment.’ BBC News -  (6th March 2019).

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