First woman declared cured of HIV after stem cell transplant

A nurse (L) hands a red ribbon to a woman, to mark World AIDS Day, at the entrance of Emilio Ribas hospital, in Sao Paulo December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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CHICAGO, Feb 15 (Reuters) – An American leukemia patient has become the first woman and third person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor naturally resistant to the virus that causes the virus. AIDS, according to researchers reported Tuesday.

The case of a middle-aged mixed-race woman, presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver, is also the first involving umbilical cord blood, a new approach that could make treatment accessible to more people. .

Since receiving cord blood to treat her acute myeloid leukemia – a cancer that starts in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow – the woman has been in remission and virus-free for 14 months, without the need for strong treatments against HIV known as antiretroviral therapy.

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The previous two cases occurred in men – a white and a Latino – who had received adult stem cells, which are more commonly used in bone marrow transplants.

“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 case is part of a larger US-backed study led by Dr Yvonne Bryson of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Dr Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It aims to follow 25 people living with HIV who undergo a transplant of stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood for the treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses.

Patients in the trial first undergo chemotherapy to kill the cancerous immune cells. Doctors then transplant stem cells from individuals who carry a specific genetic mutation in which they lack receptors used by the virus to infect cells.

Scientists believe that these individuals then develop an immune system resistant to HIV.

Lewin said bone marrow transplants are not a viable strategy to cure most people with HIV. But the report “confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further reinforces the use of gene therapy as a viable strategy for a cure for HIV,” she said.

The study suggests that an important component of success is the transplantation of HIV-resistant cells. Previously, scientists thought that a common side effect of stem cell transplantation called graft-versus-host disease, in which the donor’s immune system attacks the recipient’s immune system, played a role in a possible cure.

“Taken together, these three cases of post-stem cell transplant healing all help untangle the various components of the transplant that were absolutely critical to a cure,” Lewin said.

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Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen Editing by Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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