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A Cure For HIV? Third Remission After Cord Blood Stem Cell Transplant

While there are many treatments for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), none have ever eradicated the virus.

People infected with HIV, who might previously have gone on to develop AIDS, can now often live a near-normal life thanks to advances in treatment. However, there are still 37.7 million people across the globe living with HIV.

Thankfully, there is new hope in this area as, in an unprecedented leap forward in modern medicine, the third HIV remission from a stem cell transplant has been reported.

A middle-aged US woman has become the third known person to go into HIV remission thanks to a transplant of stem cells, this time, from umbilical cord blood. The stem cells came from a donor who has a rare genetic abnormality that makes their cells resistant to HIV. She also happens to be the first mixed-race woman. This is significant as the results are not limited to people of Northern European descent, where the genetic mutation is predominately found.

Moving Toward a Viable Treatment for HIV Infection

 

The woman, whose name is undisclosed, received two cord blood transplants as part of her treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. She was diagnosed with leukaemia four years after her HIV diagnosis and began a new course of treatment.

After receiving high-dose chemotherapy that destroyed her blood cells, the woman received a transplant of stem cells from an adult family member (allogeneic transplant) to replenish her own blood cell levels.

This initial transplant acted as a bridge to maintain her blood cells. Later, she received stem cells through a cord blood transplant from an unrelated newborn (allogeneic transplant). The cord blood transplant came from a donor with the genetic mutation that makes cells resistant to HIV infection.

A little over three years since the stem cell transplant, she has stopped taking her HIV medication, known as antiretroviral therapy. Over fourteen months later, she had no detectable virus.

According to Dr. Marshall Glesby, associate chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine and a member of the research team, a key advantage of cord blood stem cells is that scientists can identify blood that contains the HIV-resistant mutation.

 

The researchers make it clear that cord blood transplants may not be a cure for all people. Dr Glesby said, “This is not the type of treatment that would be appropriate for somebody who does not have a medical need to have a transplant.” 

 

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added “This person happened to have an underlying disease which required a stem cell transplant so I don’t want people to think that now this is something that can be applied to the 36 million people who are living with HIV.” 

 

Despite the caution, this is another very exciting development for sufferers of HIV infection that also demonstrates the growing possibilities of umbilical cord blood stem cells.

 

As the third known occurrence of full remission from HIV, researchers are moving ever closer to finding a way to apply the incredible capabilities of stem cells to one of the world’s most challenging and difficult-to-treat illnesses.