- A stem cell transplant has rid a man of HIV, making him the second person to be declared cured of the virus.
- The transplant used stem cells that contained a unique mutation that works against HIV.
- Doctors are optimistic but warn that this treatment isn’t a magic bullet for all HIV patients.
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A 40-year-old HIV patient has been declared cured after a promising treatment has left him with no active virus. The man, Adam Castillejo, was the subject of extensive research in early 2019 after doctors failed to find HIV in his body over an 18-month period after previously being diagnosed in 2003.
Castillejo, known by the nickname “London Patient” lived with the disease for many years, taking medicine to manage it since 2012. That same year he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and later endured a bone marrow transplant. That operation may have ultimately cured him of HIV, and appears to have made him only the second person to ever be cured of the disease that causes AIDS.
As ScienceAlert reports, the bone marrow transplant that doctors performed on Castillejo used cells from a donor with a very special genetic quirk. The cells are thought to work against HIV in the body, but there was no guarantee that the transplant would provide any concrete benefits beyond treating the cancer.
However, it appears as though the decision to treat Castillejo with the unique stem cells worked in more ways than one, and last year doctors announced they couldn’t find the virus in his body after 18 months. At the time, they were hesitant to declare the London Patient cured, but after a new round of testing returned the same results, they are more confident that the active form of the virus has indeed been defeated.
“This is a unique position to be in, a unique and very humbling position,” Castillejo told the New York Times. “I want to be an ambassador of hope.”
While this sounds like incredible news — and for Castillejo, it certainly is — the treatment is not an option for everyone. With cancer limiting their options, doctors used the stem cell transplant as a last resort to keep him alive. It’s a serious operation and one that was only performed because Castillejo’s condition was so dire.
Castillejo and the other HIV patient who had similar results, known as the “Berlin Patient,” may be uniquely fortunate. The doctors note that there are others who have had the same transplant performed but did not improve as rapidly as the others. There are obviously many factors at work here, and as exciting as it is to see a second person cured of this terrible disease, there’s a lot more work to be done before we can say HIV has been truly beaten.