A patient with leukaemia in the United States has become the first woman and the 3rd person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant, reported Reuters.
The case of the middle-aged woman was presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver, was also the first involving umbilical cord blood, a newer approach that may make the treatment available to more people.
Researchers said this has the potential for curing more people of racially diverse backgrounds.
Since receiving the cord blood to treat her acute myeloid leukaemia, the patient starts blood-forming cells in the bone marrow and has been in remission and free of the virus for 14 months, without the need for potent HIV treatments known as antiretroviral therapy.
The donor was naturally resistant to the virus that causes AIDS.
There were 2 prior cases that occurred in males, one white and one Latino, who had received adult stem cells, which are more frequently 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.
According to The New York Times, although women comprise half of the world’s HIV cases, only 11% of cure trial participants are women.
The case is part of a wider study led by the University of California, Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that follows 25 people with HIV who undergo transplants with stem cells for the treatment of cancer and other serious conditions.
Patients in the trial will first undergo chemotherapy to kill off the cancerous immune cells. Doctors then transplant stem cells from individuals with a specific genetic mutation in which they lack receptors used by the virus to infect cells.
With this, scientists believe these individuals will develop an immune system resistant to HIV.
Meanwhile, Lewin said bone marrow transplants are not a viable strategy to cure most people living with HIV, but the report confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens using gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure.
With this, the study suggested that an important element to the success is the transplantation of HIV-resistant cells.
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.
“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.” Lewin said.