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California man is ‘beyond grateful’ after becoming the fifth person cured of HIV

"When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, like many others, I thought it was a death sentence."

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures:

A man is “beyond grateful” after becoming the fifth patient ever to seemingly have been cured of HIV via a bone marrow transplant.

The 66-year-old has been living with HIV since the 1980s. He wants to remain anonymous and is being referred to as ‘the City of Hope patient’ after the Californian hospital he was treated in.

Doctors say the man, who has stopped taking antiretroviral medication, has been in remission for 17 months.

As reported by the BBC, the man has said: “When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, like many others, I thought it was a death sentence.” He added, “I never thought I would live to see the day that I no longer have HIV.”

The man recover the transplant to treat his blood cancer leukaemia, but it appears to have come from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV.

The key appears to have been in the body’s white blood cells, which is where HIV infects via the CCR5 protein. However, the donor is among those who have CCR5 mutations allowing them to block HIV. 

Following the transplant, the patient was monitored and it was discovered that the man’s HIV levels became undetectable. 

Dr. Jana Dickter, an infectious diseases doctor at the City of Hope hospital says: “We were thrilled to let him know that his HIV is in remission and he no longer needs to take antiretroviral therapy that he had been on for over 30 years.”

While this offers some hope for the future, Dr. Dickter warns that bone marrow transplants aren’t going to dramatically impact HIV treatment due to the procedure’s complexity and potential side effects. 

Professor Sharon Lewin, the president-elect of the International Aids Society, said of the findings presented at the Aids 2022 conference in Montreal, Canada that, “a cure remains the Holy Grail of HIV research.”

Pointing to the handful of cases such as this, she says there is “continued hope for people living with HIV, and inspiration for the scientific community.”

Over the last few years, there have been a few similar cases to ‘the City of Hope patient’. 

Timothy Ray Brown – known as ‘the Berlin Patient’ – was the first person in the world to be cured of HIV. Sadly, he passed away due to cancer in 2020.

Also in 2020, Adam Castillejo aka ‘the London patient’ became the second person to be cured thanks to a stem cell treatment. A third person – ‘the Düsseldorf patient’ was reported to have been “functionally cured” of HIV via bone marrow transplant in 2019.

And last year, the first female patient was cured after also going through a stem cell procedure. 

The BBC reports that ‘the City of Hope patient’ is the oldest patient to be treated in this way and has lived with HIV for the longest time.

In 2020, it was also reported that a man had been cured of HIV through medication alone. However, experts added that four other people treated with the same intensified medication regime did not maintain viral suppression.

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.