A UK patient has entered remission from HIV for the past 18 months, after receiving a stem cell transplant. Although it is too early to say the patient has been ‘cured’, researchers say the condition is now ‘undetectable’ in the patient’s body.

The news marks only the second time where HIV has been overcome by treatment, and offers hope that a long-awaited cure is on the horizon.

How does it work?

The London patient received bone-marrow-derived stem cells from a donor with a mutated copy of the CCR5 receptor – a receptor which is used by the HIV virus to enter the body’s cells.

The mutated version of CCR5 prevents HIV from penetrating these cells, which means it is therefore unable to spread.

The patient received the transplant after chemotherapy for advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which means their immune system was reconstituted after engraftment.

18 months later, the patient now has the same genetic mutation and the HIV virus is no longer able to enter new cells.

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Stem cells and HIV

Today’s story is not the first case where a haematopoetic stem cell transplant has diminished HIV/Aids in a patient.

In 2009, doctors treated Timothy Brown in Berlin for leukaemia, and likewise went into remission for both his cancer and HIV diagnosis.

Until recently, it was uncertain whether the ‘Berlin patient’ was an anomaly. Now that similar results have been achieved in London, however, it is more likely that doctors could administer a HIV ‘cure’ to other patients who also have a blood disorder.

Cord blood and HIV

To this end, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington launched a cord blood clinical trial last year with the hope of using haematopoietic stem cells to ‘cure’ HIV.

As with the London transplant, the therapy is only available to patients who are diagnosed with blood cancer and comes after an intensive round of chemotherapy.

It does, however, suggest that haematopoietic stem cells –  derived from either bone marrow or cord blood – could be the key to unlocking a HIV cure in the next few years.

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