Two older patients appear to beat HIV, offering hope for a cure
Image of retrovirus (Shutterstock.com).

Two older patients infected with HIV appear to be in long-term remission and may provide scientists with hope of developing a cure, scientists reported Wednesday.

"A 66-year-old man with HIV is in long-term remission after receiving a transplant of blood stem cells containing a rare mutation, raising the prospect that doctors may someday be able to use gene editing to re-create the mutation and cure patients of the virus that causes AIDS," reports the Washington Post.

"The patient, who had lived more than half his life with the virus, is among a handful of people who went into remission after receiving stem cells from a donor with the rare mutation, said doctors from City of Hope, a cancer and research center in Duarte, Calif., who treated him."

The mutation is rare, reports note, leaving such a treatment unavailable to most individuals infected with HIV. Bone marrow transplants are also fraught with risk and have been used only on HIV-infected patients who have developed cancer.

A woman in her 70s in Spain also appears to have "beaten" her infection, scientists say. The woman still has HIV "lying dormant" in some cells in her body. "But the amount is declining," notes the Wall Street Journal, "and the virus isn't replication even though she stopped antiretroviral therapy more than 15 years ago."

The woman was diagnosed with HIV at age 59 and entered a study, where she took antiretroviral medication for nine months. After the treatment was stopped, her body was naturally able to bring HIV under control.

According to researchers, the woman was able to bring the virus under control naturally because "she has high levels of two types of immune cells that the virus normally suppresses" and that likely helped her body control viral replication.

“This is one step in the long road to [a] cure,” said William Haseltine, an erstwhile Harvard Medical School professor who founded the university’s HIV/AIDS research department, in a statement.

The 66-year-old patient asked not to be identified, and said in a statement, “When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, like many others, I thought it was a death sentence... I never thought I would live to see the day that I no longer have HIV.”

The man received a transplant in 2019 and continued taking anti-HIV medication until he was vaccinated against COVID-19. Scientists say he has been in remission for a year and a half.

Disclosure: The author founded a U.S. nonprofit focused on HIV prevention, Prevention 305, specifically focused on promoting PrEP, a medication regimen than can prevent HIV infection.