Doctors in Brazil say an experimental treatment given to a man known as the Sao Paulo Patient may have cured him of HIV.
The man, who was subjected to intensive anti-retroviral drug therapy with the purpose of removing all traces of the AIDS virus from his body, shows no signs of the virus after more than a year since he stopped receiving the treatment.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the patient said he was “very moved, because it’s something that millions of people want. It’s a gift of life, a second chance to live.”
The only other two known cases of HIV cures have been through bone marrow transplants, which gave patients new immune systems that were better equipped to respond to the virus.
Bone marrow transplants are prohibitively expensive, though, and they come with life-threatening side effects, leading experts to disregard them as a viable option.
Although the treatment the Sao Paulo Patient received appears to be a much better alternative, he represents only a single case that requires more research and experimentation.
“These are exciting findings but they’re very preliminary,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an AIDS expert at the University of California, San Francisco. “This has happened to one person, and one person only.”
Gandhi noted the four others in the same experiment did not respond similarly to the treatment.
If the Sao Paulo Patient’s case can be shown to work on a broader spectrum, it would be a huge breakthrough, as people with HIV currently are forced to stay on a treatment plan for the rest of their lives.
HIV is difficult to treat because it lies dormant for long periods of time, during which it cannot be eliminated by medicines or the body’s normal immune response. Patients must stay on drugs to keep the virus dormant and prevent it from becoming active again.