Oldest patient still cured of HIV after receiving stem cell transplant

The oldest patient to date has been cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant for leukemia, researchers reported on Wednesday.

While the transplant was planned to treat the 66-year-old’s leukemia, doctors also searched for a donor who was naturally resistant to the AIDS virus, a mechanism that first worked to cure ‘Berlin patient’ Timothy Ray Brown , in 2007.

The latest patient, the fourth to be cured in this way, is known as the ‘City of Hope’ patient after the US facility in Duarte, California, where he was treated, as he does not want to be identified.

As well as being the oldest, the patient has also had HIV the longest, having been diagnosed in 1988 with what he described as a “death sentence” that many of his friends described.

He has been on antiretroviral therapy (ART) to control his condition for over 30 years.

Doctors who presented the data ahead of the 2022 meeting of the International Aids Society (IAS) said the case opens up the possibility for elderly patients with HIV and blood cancer to access treatment, d especially since the stem cell donor was not a family member.

Describing a cure as the “holy grail,” Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the IAS, said the “City of Hope” case provided “continuing hope…and inspiration” to people living with HIV and to the wider scientific community, although treatment was unlikely to be an option for most people living with HIV due to the risks of the procedure.

Scientists believe the process works because the donor stem cells have a specific, rare genetic mutation, which means they lack the receptors used by HIV to infect cells.

After the transplant three and a half years ago, which followed chemotherapy, the City of Hope patient stopped taking ART in March 2021. He has now been in remission from HIV and leukemia for more than a year. year, the team said.

But ahead of the conference which begins on Friday, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) presented data showing how the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed global efforts to fight HIV, including a reversal progress in the most populous region of the world, Asia and the Pacific.

According to the report, hard-won progress has stalled, putting millions of lives at risk.

Globally, the one-year decline in new HIV infections is stabilizing. Worse still, cases have started to climb in parts of Asia and the Pacific where they had previously plummeted, according to UNAIDS.

The number of people on life-saving HIV treatment grew more slowly last year than it has in ten years. Inequalities are widening. Every two minutes last year, an adolescent girl or young woman was newly infected and in sub-Saharan Africa they are three times more likely to contract HIV than boys and men of the same age. And 650,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses last year, according to the report.

“It is a wake-up call to the world to say that Covid-19 has dramatically derailed the AIDS response,” said Matthew Kavanagh, Deputy Executive Director of UNAids.

The UN has set a target of fewer than 370,000 new HIV infections by 2025. Last year there were around 1.5 million, meaning it would take a significant turnaround to closer to this goal. Yet low- and middle-income countries are missing $8 billion in needed financing because international aid has also declined, the report said.

Things could be even worse given that HIV testing slowed or even stopped in many places when Covid-19 hit, possibly leaving even more virus spread unaccounted for.

“People are exhausted from epidemics and pandemics,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top expert on AIDS. “We have to fight twice as hard to get HIV back on the radar screen, where it belongs.”

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