A stem cell transplant has cured a man of HIV, researchers have announced.
The patient, 53, is only the third person to be cured of the condition using the treatment.
He appears to be the fifth person in total to be cured overall.
He had not taken anti-retroviral medicine, or suppressants, for four years and has not relapsed.
Similar to the other two stem cell transplant patients – one in Berlin and another in London – the man, in Dusseldorf, had the transplant to treat a blood disorder, which in his case was leukaemia, that had developed alongside the HIV infection.
More than 10 years after the transplant and four years after ending his HIV therapy, he is in good health.
“I still remember very well the sentence of my family doctor: ‘Don’t take it so hard. We will experience together that HIV can be cured’,” he said.
“At the time, I dismissed the statement as an alibi. Today, I am all the more proud of my worldwide team of doctors who succeeded in curing me of HIV – and at the same time, of course, of leukaemia.
“On Valentine’s Day this year, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant in a big way. My bone marrow donor was present as a guest of honour.”
Researchers say the virus not returning is the result of thorough scientific and therapeutic preparation and monitoring, adding that the study is the longest and most precise diagnostic monitoring of a patient following a stem cell transplantation.
A transplant destroys any unhealthy blood cells and replaces them with healthy ones removed from blood or bone marrow, and due to their high risk, are only carried out within the framework of treating other life-threatening conditions.
The team, led by medics at Dusseldorf University Hospital, hope the information they have gained will help more studies into cures for HIV.
Research should now be continued, experts suggest, to help HIV patients overcome infections without the need for this kind of strenuous intervention in the future.
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The Dusseldorf patient was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a form of life-threatening blood cancer, six months after starting his HIV therapy, and underwent the stem cell transplant in 2013.
In 2018, after constant monitoring by doctors, the anti-viral HIV therapy – which had ensured any residual HIV was kept under control up to that point – was ended.
On behalf of the international team, Dr Bjorn-Erik Ole Jensen said: “Following our intensive research, we can now confirm that it is fundamentally possible to prevent the replication of HIV on a sustainable basis by combining two key methods.
“On the one hand, we have the extensive depletion of the virus reservoir in long-lived immune cells, and on the other hand, the transfer of HIV resistance from the donor immune system to the recipient, ensuring that the virus has no chance to spread again.
“Further research is now needed into how this can be made possible outside the narrow set of framework conditions we have described.”
The Nature Medicine journal has published the study.
In recent years, a man from California has been cured of HIV after his diagnosis in 1988, while Timothy Ray Brown, known as the Berlin Patient, was cured in 2007 – but later died from cancer.