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Woman Cured of HIV After Stem Cell Transplant

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.

Sharon Lewin, the president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said that this is now the third report of a cure in this setting and the first in a woman living with HIV. The two prior cases occurred in males, one white and one Latino, who had received adult stem cells more frequently used in bone marrow transplants. This new approach may make the treatment available to more people.The case is part of a more comprehensive study led by the University of California and Johns Hopkins University that follows 25 people with HIV who undergo transplants with stem cells to treat cancer and other severe conditions.

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.

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