The Berlin Patient and Advances in HIV Cure. This remarkable event occurred when he underwent an unconventional bone marrow transplant in Germany.
An American living in Berlin, Brown underwent two stem cell transplants in 2007 and 2008 to treat acute myeloid leukemia. The donor of these stem cells had two copies of a mutation that naturally renders white blood cells, the body’s defense cells, resistant to HIV.
As the donor’s cells replaced Brown’s, HIV replication ceased and eventually disappeared. Since then, the ‘Berlin Patient’ was able to discontinue antiretroviral treatment and remained virus-free.
Timothy Ray Brown: The Berlin Patient
In 2011, the Berlin Patient marked the first real cure for HIV. Diagnosed with the virus in 1995, Brown developed leukemia 12 years later and underwent a unique stem cell transplant. Besides being a match, the donor had a mutation in the CCR5 gene, necessary for the virus to enter cells. Surprisingly, the patient was cured of both the hematologic disease and the HIV infection as the virus vanished from his body. Brown passed away in 2020, not due to HIV but because of leukemia.
The London Patient
What was initially considered an anecdote, an isolated case, was replicated with the London Patient in 2019. Published in the journal Nature, a man diagnosed with HIV in 2003 was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2016, he underwent a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor, also with the CCR5Δ32 mutation, preventing the virus from entering cells. Castillo has been without antiretroviral treatment for five years and is free of the virus.
The case of the new Düsseldorf
The patient is very similar to his predecessors. Diagnosed with HIV in 2008, he started antiretroviral therapy. In 2012, however, he developed acute myeloid leukemia and had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. They searched for a compatible stem cell donor with the CCR5Δ32 mutation. About six years after stabilizing the hematologic disease, they discontinued antiretroviral treatment. Since then, there have been no traces of the virus in his body.
The path to the end of the AIDS-causing virus is one step closer. Spanish scientists achieved undetectable viral reservoirs in the blood and tissues of five people with HIV after undergoing bone marrow stem cell transplants.
According to research published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine by the American College of Physicians. Viral antibodies even completely disappeared in one case seven years after the transplant.
This indicates that their bodies could have eliminated HIV.
The latent viral reservoir of HIV is formed by infected cells that cannot be detected or cured by medicines or the body’s immune system.
Timothy Ray Brown, The Berlin Patient As Maria Salgado, from the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona and co-author of the study, pointed out to the Efe news agency, this reservoir is the reason antiretroviral drugs do not cure HIV infection. Instead, they reduce viral load and prevent it from developing into the AIDS stage.
The study (The Berlin Patient and Advances in HIV Cure)
However, the study indicates certain factors associated with stem cell transplants that could contribute to eliminating this reservoir from the body.
“The good results we have obtained do not mean that they have been cured, but for the moment, we cannot detect the viral reservoir,” clarified Javier Martínez-Picado, a researcher at the IrsiCaixa Institute, to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.
If you want to learn more about Stem Cells, I invite you to read our article What Are Stem Cells?