Thought with all the doom and gloom that some good news would be nice: a man from London has become the second person in the world to be cured of HIV. The man, Adam Castillejo is still free of the virus more than 30 months after stopping anti-retroviral therapy.
He was not cured by the HIV drugs, however, but by a stem-cell treatment he received for a cancer according to a report published in the Lancet. The donors of those stem cells have an uncommon gene that gives them, and now Castillejo, protection against HIV.
In 2011, Timothy Brown, the “Berlin Patient” became the first person reported as cured of HIV, three and half years after having similar treatment. Castillejo, 40, went public with his identity in an interview with the New York Times, revealing he had been living with HIV since 2003. In 2012 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and subsequently underwent a stem cell transplant. Crucially, the medical team picked a donor whose stem cells had two copies of a mutation that mean the white blood cells they develop into are resistant to HIV.
Last year it emerged the procedure had not only successfully treated the cancer, but that the HIV was in remission. However, he chose to remain anonymous.
Stem-cell transplants appear to stop the virus being able to replicate inside the body by replacing the patient’s own immune cells with donor ones that resist HIV infection. Castillejo has no detectable active HIV infection in his blood, semen or tissues, his doctors say.
The doctors report that: “Our findings show that the success of stem-cell transplantation as a cure for HIV, first reported nine years ago in the Berlin Patient, can be replicated.” But it will not be a treatment for the millions of people around the world living with HIV. The aggressive therapy was primarily used to treat the patients’ cancers, not their HIV. And current HIV drugs remain very effective; meaning people with the virus can live long and healthy lives. But it might offer hope of finding a cure, in the future, using gene therapy.