On Tuesday, Doctors reported that a second person was cured of HIV following a stem cell transplant treatment. No trace of infection was found in the patient's blood 30 months after he discontinued his traditional treatment.
The Venezuelan man, referred to as the “London Patient,” gained attention last year when University of Cambridge researchers reported that no trace of the virus was found in the man’s blood for 18 months.
The author of the study released in The Lancet, HIV, Ravindra Gupta noted that the results of the new test were “even more remarkable” and most likely mean that the patient has been cured.
“We've tested a sizable set of sites that HIV likes to hide in and they are all pretty much negative for an active virus,” Gupta said to AFP.
The 40-year-old patient’s name is Adam Castillejo, who in 2003 was diagnosed with HIV. He had been using medication for the disease since 2012.
He was also diagnosed with a cancer called advanced Hodgkin’s Lymphoma later that year.
He had a bone marrow transplant in 2016 to treat his blood cancer and received stem cells given by donors who had a genetic mutation. The mutation is seen in under one percent of Europeans and it stops HIV from taking over.
Castillejo is just the second person that has been cured of HIV. The other was American, Timothy Brown who was referred to as the “Berlin Patient.” He recovered from the virus in 2011 after receiving similar treatment.
Tests on Castillejo showed no active infection two years after he stopped anti-retroviral treatment.
Gupta noted that HIV “fossils,” incapable of reproducing were found by the test.
“It's quite hard to imagine that all trace of a virus that infects billions of cells was eliminated from the body,” he said
Researchers noted that there is still no generalized cure for HIV.
Castillejo needed the treatment as a “last resort” due to his blood cancer which would most likely have cost him his life if left untreated.
According to Gupta, many other patients had received similar treatment without the same results.
“There will probably be more but they will take time,” he said.
“You'd have to weigh up the fact that there's a 10-per cent mortality rate from doing a stem-cell transplant against what the risk of death would be if we did nothing.”
Castillejo noted that he felt he should identify himself in order to spread HIV awareness.
“This is a unique position to be in, a unique and very humbling position,” he said while speaking with The New York Times.
Infectious disease expert from the University of Melbourne, Sharon Lewin said that the case was “exciting.”
“But we need to also place it in context — curing people of HIV via a bone marrow transplant is just not a viable option on any kind of scale,” she added.
“We need to constantly reiterate the importance of, prevention, early testing and treatment adherence as the pillars of the current global response to HIV/AIDS.”