A man with the AIDS virus in remission for over a year could be the first adult patient to recover from the disease without requiring a bone marrow transplant: a potential breakthrough announced by researchers on Tuesday. The case was presented at the 23rd International AIDS Conference, which, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is being held for the first time fully online from 6 to 10 July.
The London and Berlin patients
HIV affects tens of millions of people around the world. Although the disease is no longer synonymous with certain death, HIV-positive patients must be treated for life. In recent years, two men – known as “Berlin” and “London” patients – appear to have been cured after undergoing high-risk bone marrow transplants to treat cancer.
An international team of researchers believes they have a third patient who shows no signs of infection after another type of treatment. The patient, a 34-year-old Brazilian, was diagnosed with HIV in 2012. During the study, he was given several powerful antiviral drugs, including Maraviroc (Brand name Celsentri) and Dolutegravir (Tivicay), to see if they could help him get rid of the virus.
Over 57 weeks without HIV treatment
After more than 57 weeks without HIV treatment, this patient remains negative for HIV antibody testing. Ricardo Diaz, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of São Paulo, believes that the patient can be considered free of the disease. “The most important thing for me is to have a patient who was in treatment and now, without treatment, controls the virus,” he told AFP.
“We are not able to detect the virus and it loses its specific response to the virus – if you don’t have antibodies, you don’t have an antigen,” he added.
According to the UN, 1.7 million people were infected with HIV last year and more than 40 million people are now living with it. According to Dr. Diaz, his team’s treatment, which still requires more research, is a more ethical option for critically ill people living with HIV than bone marrow transplants.
For Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Ricardo Diaz’s conclusions are “very interesting”, although she notes that there are some limitations in the study. “This very provocative data needs further analysis,” she says.
There have also been a number of prolonged remissions around the world, with no confirmed cure.