Third person reportedly cured of HIV following stem cell transplant

Two prior male patients have been allegedly cured, with this being the first successful female case.

A doctor examines a blood test as HIV has reportedly been cured in three patients.
Image: Pexels

An American female diagnosed with leukemia has become the third person and first woman cured of HIV according to multiple reports. Researchers have stated that the patient received a novel stem cell transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to the virus, and that the outcome was successful.

Scientists revealed some of the case details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, February 15. The middle-aged female patient was the first to undergo a haplo-cord transplant, where umbilical cord blood is used in what is a newer method that is accessible to more people. 

The patient received the treatment in August 2017 to help with her acute myeloid leukemia – a cancer that starts in blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. Since then, she has been in remission, and three years after the transplant she stopped using antiretroviral therapy and has been free of HIV for 14 months.

Speaking on the breakthrough, the New York-based patient’s doctor, Dr Marshall Glesby, said: “This would be a treatment for the modest number of people who have a condition that requires a transplant, have HIV and are able to identify a match. And I think the pool of potential matches would be expanded by using umbilical cord as the source, which is what we demonstrated in our patient for the first time.”

Dr Glesby has been on the cured patient’s direct care since her HIV diagnosis in 2013, and all through her leukemia battle which started in 2017. 

President-Elect of the International AIDS Society, Sharon Lewin, reacted to the news saying: “This, first of all, tells us or confirms that a cure is indeed possible, and scientists need to keep working to find a cure.”

The previous cases of patients being cured of HIV occurred in two males who had received adult stem cells, which are more regularly used in bone marrow transplants. Ms Lewin explained that his method is not suitable for most people, and she expressed optimism surrounding the new procedure.

“What this case tells us is that if you can make cells resistant to HIV, you can stop the virus coming back.”

One of the doctors involved in the treatment, Dr Koen van Besien, estimated that “there are approximately 50 patients per year in the US who could benefit from this procedure.”

He added that “The ability to use partially matched umbilical cord blood grafts greatly increases the likelihood of finding suitable donors for such patients.”

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