(WXYZ) — A breakthrough treatment has likely cured a third person of HIV.
An American woman has been in remission now for 14 months after being treated with adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood.
The patient involved has asked for privacy so I don’t have too many details. But we know that she’s a middle-aged woman of mixed race. She lives in New York and was diagnosed with HIV back in 2013. Then in 2017, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which is a broad term for cancers of the blood cells.
To treat her cancer, the woman needed a stem cell transplant. She was given a combination of adult stem cells taken from a relative’s blood and umbilical cord blood that was genetically matched. The cord blood came from a cord-blood bank.
What’s important about this cord blood, was that it contained a genetic mutation that is resistant to HIV. Now, what happened after this new procedure was the woman’s immune system rebuilt itself with the HIV-resistant cells from the umbilical cord blood. And her own cells became resistant to HIV.
How do we know that? Well, she stopped all HIV treatment. And 14 months later, there is still no sign of the virus and she continues to test negative for HIV.
Of course, the woman is still being watched closely, as she’s part of a study that follows Americans with HIV that have undergone a transplant.
I don’t want to give false hope. While this treatment was a huge breakthrough, unfortunately, it will not be readily available to the 36 million people living with HIV around the world.
There’s only two other people in the world who’ve been cured of HIV – Timothy Ray Brown known as the Berlin Patient and Adam Castillejo known as the London Patient. These two patients underwent a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. And what people need to know is that a bone marrow transplant is dangerous and risky.
The key reason why the woman with HIV was given a stem cell transplant was because of her cancer. It’s generally only considered when there are no other options.
Right now, we currently have powerful drugs that can control HIV – to the point that the virus is undetectable. Having said that, I’m very hopeful that this new research will lead to newer and more accessible treatments down the road – and that a cure for all can be found and put an end to this decades-old HIV pandemic.