A patient from London who was HIV positive and diagnosed with cancer, agreed to have a stem cell transplant in hopes of curing his cancer. After treatment, not only was the patient cancer-free, but he is now living his life HIV-free.
DNA contains gene CCR5, which almost everyone carries. The CCR5 gene in the stem cells given to the London patient contained a specific mutation that prevents the gene from “expressing” itself. This type of mutation block allows CCR5 to become naturally resistant to HIV. Because HIV attacks the CCR5 part of a gene, when doctors treated the patient for his cancer, they literally fed his body a new immune system that also had HIV resistance. With this treatment, the patient has been living cancer AND HIV-free for almost two years!
There are other factors that may have played a part in the successful healing of this patient’s immune system. Some believe that graft-versus-host disease, a dangerous and sometimes fatal side effect that often develops after a stem cell transplant, helped to kickstart his new immune system and rid him of HIV.
Because of this complication, the procedure has not been successfully repeated for other HIV-positive individuals because the risk of complications associated with graft-versus-host disease is too great and doctors have no way of replicating the situation safely.
We hope that with time, scientists will be able to manipulate the gene even further and perhaps one day discover an actual cure for HIV.
While the London patient may have been cured due to cell mutation, he was also completely cured of his cancer. Read the article to learn more.