First woman cured of HIV following umbilical cord stem cell transplant, report

The case is the first of a woman being cured of the virus, and third person to date.
A patient in a hospital

A U.S. patient who received a stem cell transplant for leukemia was also cured of HIV because the donor had natural immunity to the virus, becoming the first woman and third person to be cured of HIV by the procedure, researchers say.

The case of the middle-aged, mixed-race woman was presented this week to the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Colorado. Her case is the first in which blood from the umbilical cord was used, which relative to other methods should make the treatment more widely available.

The woman received cord blood to treat her acute myeloid leukemia, and has been in remission and free of the virus for 14 months.

In the two other cases, each with a male patient, the virus was cured after they received adult stem cells. 

The larger study, of which the case is a part, is being led by Dr. Yvonne Bryson at the University of California Los Angeles and Dr. Deborah Persaud at Johns Hopkins University. The researchers are following 25 people with HIV who undergo a stem cell transplant with cells taken from umbilical cords.

The patients initially undergo chemotherapy to kill off cancerous immune cells, which doctors then replace with stem cells from individuals with a specific genetic mutation in which they lack receptors that allow the virus to infect cells.

It is the belief of researchers that these patients then develop and immune system that is resistant to HIV. 

Sharon Lewis, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, bone marrow transplants are not a viable strategy to cure most cases of HIV but the reports confirm that "a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens using gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure."

She also said: "Taken together, these three cases of a cure post stem cell transplant all help in teasing out the various components of the transplant that were absolutely key to a cure."