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Scientists Announce 5th HIV Patient Cured

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 29, 2022
Originally published on July 28, 2022

Scientists announced at the International AIDS Conference that a fifth person has been cured of HIV, while in another case a patient is in long-term remission, according to NBC News.

A 66-year-old man has seemingly been cured in the same way that four previous patients were cured — through a stem-cell transplant not primarily intended to eradicate HIV, but rather to treat his cancer. As in other cases, the stem cell donor had "a specific rare genetic abnormality that gives rise to immune cells naturally resistant to the virus," and that resistance to the virus was transferred to the donor recipient, so that he is now evidently free of the virus.

The case of viral remission, on the other hand, involves a female patient who was treated in 2006 with "an immune-boosting regimen" that has seemingly helped enable her immune system to keep the virus at bay for 15 years, although "she still harbors viable HIV."

The two cases serve as proof of concept "that ridding the body of all copies of viable virus is indeed possible, and that prompting lasting viral remission also might be attainable," the article noted — though, NBC News went on to caution, health experts point out that "it is not ethical to attempt to cure HIV through a stem cell transplant — a highly toxic and potentially fatal treatment — in anyone who is not already facing a potentially fatal blood cancer or other health condition that would make them a candidate for such a treatment."

Moreover, the stem cell treatment is far from a surefire method for eradicating the virus from recipients, even if the donor possesses the genetic abnormality that has made it possible in a few cases. "Researchers have failed to cure HIV using this approach in a slew of other people with the virus," NBC News noted.

Similarly, the approach used with the woman whose own immune system was seemingly boosted to be able to fight off the virus cannot reliably be replicated. That approach "failed in all participants in the clinical trial but her," NBC News detailed.

Still, the two cases may represent another step toward eventually curing HIV, though reaching that point might still take a long time.

"The ultimate goal of the HIV cure research field is to develop safe, effective, tolerable and, importantly, scalable therapies that could be made available to wide swaths of the global HIV population of some 38 million people," NBC News said. "Experts in the field tend to think in terms of decades rather than years when hoping to achieve such a goal against a foe as complex as this virus."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.