HIV-infected cancer patient could be cured in Düsseldorf

Doctors created a sensation in Düsseldorf (D). They were able to cure a patient of HIV and cancer through a stem cell transplant.

Doctor (icon image) – Pexels

the essentials in brief

  • Doctors from the University Hospital in Düsseldorf made a medical breakthrough.
  • A patient was cured of cancer and HIV with stem cell therapy.
  • A gene mutation seems to be the key.

Physicians from the University Hospital Düsseldorf reported in the journal “Nature Medicine” that they were able to cure an HIV patient with cancer of both diseases. This was achieved with the help of a stem cell transplant. This sensation has now been achieved worldwide for the third time.

The research team is now hoping for treatment options for HIV-infected people without cancer. The focus is on gene therapy approaches. Such a therapy, which was successful in Düsseldorf, could already be applied to the “Berlin patient” and the “London patient”.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) was diagnosed in the “Düsseldorf patient” in 2011, three years after his HIV diagnosis. It’s a form of blood cancer. In 2013 he received a stem cell transplant.

“Right from the start, the aim of the transplantation was to get both the leukemia and the HI virus under control.” Explained Guido Kobbe from the University Hospital Düsseldorf, who carried out the procedure.

Rare gene mutation: Central and northern Europeans only

The stem cells had a specific gene mutation called CCR5Δ32 (CCR5-Delta32). This rare mutation occurs mainly in people from northern and central Europe. It ensures that there is no docking site for HIV on the immune cells.

Without such a docking point, the virus cannot find an entry point and cannot infect the cells. This makes carriers of the mutation almost resistant to the pathogen.

In fact, the transplant resulted in remission of HIV symptoms, so in 2018 the treatment team decided to discontinue antiviral HIV therapy.

53-year-old cured of HIV and cancer

The subsequent monitoring of the patient over several years proved the continuing success: Today the scientists speak of a complete recovery of the meanwhile 53-year-old.

Björn Jensen, part of the international team of doctors, summarized: After your intensive research, you can confirm that it is fundamentally possible to prevent the multiplication of the HI virus in the long term. This is possible by combining two main methods.

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On the one hand, this is the extensive emptying of the virus reservoir in long-lived immune cells. On the other hand, the transfer of the HIV resistance of the donor immune system to the recipient. “So the HI virus has no chance of multiplying again.”

However, such a therapy is currently only possible for a few patients: on the one hand, because the number of suitable donors with the mutation is so small. On the other hand, because stem cell transplantation can only be used in the treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer due to the risks.

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