A patient with leukemia in the United States has become the first woman and the third person to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant. The case, presented on Tuesday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in the US city of Denver, was the first involving umbilical cord blood to treat acute myeloid leukemia, which starts in blood-forming cells in the bone marrow.
Since receiving the cord blood, the middle-aged woman of mixed race has been in remission and free of HIV for 14 months, without the need for potent treatments known as antiretroviral therapy. The donor was naturally resistant to the virus that causes AIDS.
Patients in the trial first undergo chemotherapy to kill off the cancerous immune cells and then receive transplant stem cells from individuals with a specific genetic mutation. They lack receptors used by the virus to infect cells.Scientists believe these individuals then develop an immune system resistant to HIV. Previously, scientists believed that a common stem cell transplant side-effect called graft versus host disease – in which the donor immune system attacks the recipient’s immune system – played a role in a possible cure.