An unnamed British man’s HIV has become “undetectable” following a stem cell transplant, according to a report in Nature. The case is only the second of its kind.

The London male patient was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.

The patient, who was actually being treated for his Hodgkin’s lymphoma and not his HIV (read more about cancer treatment using stem cells here), has now been in remission from HIV for 18 months and is no longer taking HIV drugs. However, researchers are reluctant to say whether or not the man is “cured” of HIV at this stage.

Some experts have added that the approach is not practical for treating most people with HIV but admit that it may help find a cure in the future.

The treatment involved chemotherapy to treat the Hodgkin’s cancer and, in addition, stem cells being implanted into the patient from an HIV-resistant donor. This lead to both his cancer and HIV going into remission.

Researchers from University College London, Imperial College London, Cambridge and Oxford Universities were all involved in the case.

What makes this case especially promising is that it is not the first of its kind. Ten years ago, Berlin patient Timothy Brown became the first person to be “cured” of HIV/Aids when he was given two transplants and total body irradiation (radiotherapy) for leukaemia. One of the transplants – a bone-marrow transplant – was from an HIV-resistant donor. 

“By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin patient was not an anomaly and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people,” said Professor Ravindra Gupta, from UCL.

Professor Eduardo Olavarria, also involved in the research, from Imperial College London, said: “The treatment is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment because of the toxicity of chemotherapy, which in this case was required to treat the lymphoma.”

Dr Andrew Freedman, reader in infectious diseases and honorary consultant physician at Cardiff University, called the case an “interesting and potentially significant report.”

He added: “While this type of treatment is clearly not practical to treat the millions of people around the world living with HIV, reports such as these may help in the ultimate development of a cure for HIV.”