You may remember a previous blog from less than a year ago discussing four individuals who were cured of their HIV after receiving stem cell transplants. Well, the amazing news keeps coming as a 53-year-old leukaemia patient from Düsseldorf has just become the fifth.
Read on for the whole story.
Stem cells and leukaemia
Before we jump right in, it is worth mentioning that stem cell treatments are currently used as one treatment for leukaemia.
Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer that affects the bone marrow and then the blood cells. It starts in the marrow but can then enter the bloodstream and subsequently affect the other cells and organs in a body.
With a transplant, the procedure replaces damaged cells. According to the Siteman Cancer Centre, transplanting stem cells, usually from bone marrow, replenishes the blood stem cells in the patient’s bone marrow so they can begin to produce healthy new blood cells.
The transplant is often used in conjunction with radiation or chemotherapy and can result in long-lasting remission and even a cure.
Bone marrow donations are one way this procedure can be done. There are also peripheral blood donations and cord blood donations. Donations are usually found via the NHS cord blood bank.
The doctor can use the cells from the patient’s own body too.
The Düsseldorf Patient
A 53-year-old man, known as The Düsseldorf Patient, was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. He received antiretroviral therapy (ART) to suppress the viral load within his immune system, before enrolling in the University Hospital Düsseldorf IciStem program which explores stem cell treatment as a way of curing HIV.
Three years later the patient received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia. He did achieve remission through an initial round of chemotherapy but shortly thereafter relapsed.
Two years after the leukaemia diagnosis he received a stem cell transplant from a donor. This donor had a mutation that is believed to be resistant to HIV infection.
When 2018 came around, after continuing the ART and post-stem cell treatment, the patient was tested, and they were unable to find any trace of the HIV. Ten years after the initial HIV diagnosis, the patient appears to be cured.
The patient’s physician, Björn-Erik Ole Jensen, came forward with these findings in 2019, but believed it was too early to say if his patient was in remission, however he expressed optimism. Now, in 2023, he is happy to conclude that the treatment was a success.
Things look promising
Interestingly, the first patient believed to be cured of HIV, Timothy Brown, received the same type of transplant as this Dusseldorf Patient back in 2007. It was also reported in 2022 that a woman was cured of HIV using umbilical cord blood stem cells.
“This underlines that these approaches are promising and also reproducible, since it does not remain an isolated case.”
– Professor Jurgen Rockstroh, Head of Infectiology, University Hospital Bonn
That makes three people who have benefitted from stem cell transplants. The other two cases from the five people are believed to have been cured when their own immune system eliminated the virus by itself, without treatment, something scientists have so far been unable to explain.
HIV is a virus many people will have heard of and thankfully the conversation surrounding it has now moved on to talk of a possible cure. Further research will need to be conducted to test the chances of this being a treatment. However, three people have now been ‘cured’ of their HIV using stem cells, so thing looks promising.
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