Scientists believe they have cured HIV in a woman for the first time using a new transplant method involving umbilical cord blood. The patient, who is in the United States, has been described as a middle-aged woman of mixed race. She is the third person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant, researchers say.
The patient, who needed a stem cell transplant for leukemia, reportedly “developed a new HIV-resistant immune system following a breakthrough procedure in which she was genetically matched with umbilical cord stem cells that contained an HIV-resistant mutation.”
Since receiving the cord blood, she has been in remission and free of HIV for 14 months, without the need for antiretroviral therapy, according to researchers. The case, along with the patient’s condition, was discussed at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections this week.
“Today, we reported the third known case of HIV remission and the first woman following a stem cell transplant and using HIV-resistant cells,” Dr. Yvonne Bryson, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, according to ABC News.
“This case is special for several reasons: First, our participant was a U.S. woman living with HIV of mixed race, who needed a stem cell transplant for treatment of her leukemia. And she would find a more difficult time finding both a genetic match and one with the HIV-resistant mutation to both cure her cancer and potentially her HIV. This is a natural, but rare mutation.”
The patient was part of a study that began in 2015. Led by the University of California, Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the study follows 25 people with HIV in the U.S. who undergo transplants with stem cells for the treatment of cancer and other conditions.
“This is now the third report of a cure in this setting, and the first in a woman living with HIV,” Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said in a statement.
The two previous cases occurred in males — one white and one Latino — who had received adult stem cells more frequently used in bone marrow transplants.
“Taken together, these three cases of a cure post stem cell transplant all help in teasing out the various components of the transplant that were absolutely key to a cure,” said Lewin.
Researchers believe that this new approach may make the treatment available to more people of diverse racial backgrounds. Experts however warn that this method is “not ideal” for curing the millions of people with HIV around the world today.
“I don’t want people to think that now this is something that can be applied to the 36 million people [globally] who are living with HIV,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert in infectious disease in the U.S., said in an interview with Community Health Center, Inc.
“This person had an underlying disease that required a stem cell transplant. … It is not practical to think that this is something that’s going to be widely available,” Fauci added. “It’s more of a proof of concept.”