for Veterans and the Public
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is it true that someone has been cured of HIV?
It is true that one person appears to have been cured of HIV infection. Known as the "Berlin Patient," he is a man with chronic HIV infection who developed acute leukemia in 2007 while living in Berlin. He underwent intensive chemotherapy and two stem-cell transplants (or "bone marrow transplants"). A stem cell transplant from another person essentially replaces the recipient's immune system with the donor's immune system. Because his donor has a genetic mutation that makes his CD4 cells very resistant to becoming infected with HIV, the Berlin patient was able to discontinue his HIV medications after the first bone marrow transplant and has had no detectable HIV virus since.
It is important to realize that this was an incredibly intensive treatment course that was given for a serious blood cancer, leukemia. It is neither recommended nor feasible to give non-leukemia patients these treatments because the risks involved with chemotherapy and transplantation are very high. Nor is stem-cell transplantation a solution for the worldwide HIV epidemic, with over 33 million people infected.
However, this case has reinvigorated the research and advocacy communities to find new strategies for an HIV cure and to understand what aspects of the many treatments the Berlin patient received were key to controlling/curing the infection.
While current antiretroviral HIV medicines are very effective in inhibiting the HIV virus from actively reproducing, current HIV treatment is not able to eliminate the virus. Many different approaches are being investigated as possible avenues towards a cure, including vaccines to control the virus, medicines to change the immune system's response to HIV, medicines to "purge" the dormant HIV from the body, and genetic therapy, where a patient's white cells are altered to prevent the virus from attaching to cells. We don't know if these strategies will work or, if they are successful, when a cure would be available, but it is heartening that at least one person has been cured and that scientific efforts to find a cure have been intensified.