21 February 2023, by Victoria Séveno

A 53-year-old German man – known as the Dusseldorf patient – has become the third patient in Europe to be cured of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukaemia, UMC Utrecht reports. 

UMC Utrecht leading research into HIV cure

The IciStem Programme is the combined work of medical professionals and doctors across Europe, but the research is led by the hospital in Utrecht. As part of the programme, hospitals track cases of HIV and symptoms among patients who receive stem cell transplants for illnesses such as leukaemia. 

The Dusseldorf patient, who is enrolled in the IciStem programme, received a bone marrow transplant back in 2013. As part of the treatment, doctors at University Hospital Düsseldorf destroyed the cancerous cells in the man’s body, replacing them with donor HIV-resistant stem cells that lack CCR5 – the protein that HIV particles attach to in order to infect cells.

Dusseldorf patient officially declared HIV-free

In 2018, the man halted his HIV treatment, going off antiretroviral therapy (ART), and since then has remained HIV-free. After keeping a close eye on the patient’s health and recovery over the past decade, teams at the hospitals in Utrecht and Dusseldorf have reported there is “strong evidence” that he has been cured. Their research was published in the Nature Medicine journal on Monday.

The Dusseldorf patient marks the third patient in Europe to be cured of the virus in recent years. While HIV is generally considered lifelong, “Berlin patient” Timothy Ray Brown was declared virus-free in 2007, and “London patient” Adam Castillejo followed in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, the response to the news has been overwhelmingly positive. While the treatment is unlikely to be used for non-cancer patients, it provides a strong basis for future research about potential cures. Talking to The Washington Post, president of the International AIDS society Sharon Lewin said that while the research was “not a reasonable strategy for 38 million people living with HIV”, it was “very reassuring” and offered opportunities for more “scalable” research.

Thumb: Salov Evgeniy via Shutterstock.com.

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