Nearly 12 years to the day after researchers successfully cured the first H.I.V. patient, a second patient has been cleared of the infection, according to The New York Times.
The report is slated to be published in the journal Nature on Tuesday, and researchers will also present details of the case at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle.
Though the term “cure” has been bandied about, the scientists are opting to cast this case as a long-term “remission,” the Times said. Those experts calling it a cure are careful to note that it is “hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.”
Both patients were treated with bone-marrow transplants, though the intent was to treat cancer rather than H.I.V.
But those transplants are risky, the Times noted, with significant side effects that can last for years, making such a treatment unlikely to be widely adopted any time soon.
However, experts say “rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V.” could become a practical treatment in the future.
The first patient to be cured — Timothy Ray Brown, initially identified as the “Berlin patient” — was diagnosed with leukemia, and the bone-marrow transplant was pursued after chemotherapy was unsuccessful.
The Times said Brown’s transplants, of which he required two, came from a “donor with a mutation in a protein called CCR5, which rests on the surface of certain immune cells. H.I.V. uses the protein to enter those cells but cannot latch on to the mutated version.”
He was given “harsh immunosuppressive drugs of a kind that are no longer used, and suffered intense complications for months after the transplant,” the Times said, and at one point placed in an induced coma. He nearly died.
But the second patient — the “London patient” — endured a far less extreme experience.
After receiving a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with the CCR5 mutation in April 2016 for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the patient also received immunosuppressive drugs, but the treatment was not as intense.
In September 2017, the London patient ceased taking anti-H.I.V. drugs, “making him the first patient since Mr. Brown known to remain virus-free for more than a year after stopping.”
A third individual with H.I.V. who received a bone-marrow transplant — known as the “Düsseldorf patient” — has been off of anti-H.I.V. drugs for four months and could become the next to be declared in long-term remission.
IciStem, which maintains a database of the approximately 22,000 donors of bone-marrow with the H.I.V.-resistant mutation, is currently following 38 people infected with H.I.V. who have received transplants.