First case of HIV in remission in breakthrough trial for a cure

A person being tested for HIV in Uganda in 2017.
Photo: Shutterstock

Researchers say that HIV has gone into remission in a man who was treated with a new cocktail of medications in a break-through that could lead to a cure for the virus.

The study involved a 34-year-old Brazilian man who was diagnosed with HIV in 2012. He started antiretroviral therapy (ART) and was given other medications which included nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3.

Related: Anti-LGBTQ Christian hate group cheers as Trump administration shuts down HIV cure research

Researchers said that he was given that treatment for 48 weeks, and then he stopped taking the medications. Fifty-seven weeks later, HIV DNA could not be found in his cells and HIV tests come back negative.

“This case is extremely interesting, and I really hope that it may boost further research into an HIV cure,” Dr. Andrea Savarino of the Institute of Health in Italy told the U.K. AIDS organization Aidsmap. Savarino co-led the trial.

“The result is highly likely not to be reproducible,” he cautioned, calling it a “preliminary” result. He said that four other people received the same treatment but that it did not put HIV into remission for them.

HIV specialist Sharon Lewin of the Doherty Institute in Australia told Reuters that the case is “very interesting.”

“As this man was part of a larger clinical trial, it will be important to fully understand what happened to the other participants,” she said.

Only a handful of people have seen their HIV go into remission in the last two decades, including the “Berlin patient” twelve years ago. In his case, he received a bone marrow transplant as treatment for leukemia from a donor with a mutated gene for the CCR5 protein, which is found on white blood cells. HIV uses the protein to enter the cell, but it cannot attach to the mutated version.

He has since tested negative for the virus.

In 2019, researchers announced that they were able to cure the HIV in two other people. In both cases, the people living with HIV received a bone marrow transplant from someone with the CCR5 mutation.

These cases have helped researchers better understand the virus, even as bone marrow transplants are risky and not a practical solution for most people living with HIV.

Today’s announcement represents the first person known to be cured of HIV through medication. While currently available medications can lower a person’s viral load to the point where it’s undetectable, the virus’s DNA remains in what’s called the “viral reservoir” – immune cells that are infected with the virus but not actively producing it.

Dr. Savarino said that viral DNA could not be detected in the patient, which he told Pink News “may give an indication of the size of the viral reservoir.”

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