Leukemia patient cured of HIV after stem cell transplant — study

The global search for cure of HIV and AIDS has received confidence boost after a man in Germany was reported cured of the disease following a bone marrow transplant.

The patient, who was also suffering from leukemia, was cured after receiving HIV-resistant stem cells, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine this week.

The novel treatment offers hope for the nearly 38 million HIV and AIDS patients globally although the procedure cannot be administered on non-cancer patients due to the risks involved, the research cautioned.

Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Rapidly growing types of Leukaemia manifests in symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, frequent infections and easy bleeding or bruising.

For years, antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been given to people with HIV, lowering the virus to almost undetectable levels and preventing it from transmission to other people. But the immune system keeps the virus locked up in reservoirs in the body, and if an individual stops taking ART the virus can begin replicating and spreading.

The journal said the man, 53, from Germany was monitored for nearly 10 years after his bone marrow transplant procedure in 2013, and there is now “strong evidence” that he has been cured of HIV.

The patient’s treatment at University Hospital Düsseldorf involved destroying his cancerous cells and replacing them with donor cells that are free of CCR5, the receptor that HIV particles ride on to infect other cells in the human body, the journal noted.

Since 2018, the patient was taken off the antiretroviral therapy (ART) regime, the treatment that normally keeps HIV at manageable levels in one’s body, and clinic reports show that he has remained free of HIV since then, the paper said.

Read also: Kenya receives Sh40 billion HIV response boost from the US

Other patients worldwide who have been cured of HIV through similar treatment are Timothy Ray Brown, who underwent marrow transplant — also to treat leukemia — in Germany in 2007, and Adam Castillejo, who was also declared free of HIV in London in 2019.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022, a greater percentage of women (85 percent) than men (73 percent) have ever been tested for HIV. In Kenya, those newly diagnosed with HIV are linked to care and start antiretroviral therapy.

About 92 percent of the roughly 1.5 million people living with HIV in Kenya know their status out of which an estimated 75 percent are on treatment.

Björn-Erik Jensen, the virologist who led the patient’s treatment and study at Düsseldorf University told Nature Medicine that the findings “shows it’s not impossible — it’s just very difficult — to remove HIV from the body.”

According to Unicef, the number of children living with HIV in Kenya dropped to 111,500 in 2020 from 180,000 a decade earlier partly due to improved access to services, including for more pregnant women.

The rate of new infections among young people (15-24) remains elevated across the country. In 2020, the young people accounted for 35 percent of new infections, with two thirds of cases among young women.

In Homa Bay, one of the worst-affected counties, gender inequality, difficulties in accessing services and poverty are fueling high rates of unintended pregnancies and HIV.

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