Researchers at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine have potentially cured a New York woman of HIV for the first time. Previously, the only people who were known to have likely been cured of HIV were men, according to an NBC News report. Yvonne J. Bryson, MD, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA and led the study, announced her team’s findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“Today, we reported the third known case of HIV remission and the first woman following a stem-cell transplant and using HIV-resistant cells,” Dr. Bryson said at CROI, according to an ABC News report. “Our participant was a US woman living with HIV of mixed race, who needed a stem-cell transplant for treatment of her leukemia. And she would find a more difficult time finding both a genetic match and one with the HIV-resistant mutation to both cure her cancer and potentially her HIV. This is a natural but rare mutation,” Dr. Bryson explains. According to the aforementioned NBC News report, the New York woman was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017 and HIV in 2013.
Doctors at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center worked with Dr. Bryson’s team to perform the haplo-cord stem-cell transplant. This method of treatment gives patients umbilical-cord blood containing stem cells that can hopefully fend off the cancer. The woman’s medical team used blood from both an infant and adult donor to create a treatment that served as a strong match for her immune system. Senior medical correspondent for NBC News John Torres, MD, says during a live broadcast that “it is a dangerous treatment. They have to essentially kill [the patient’s] immune system and then give them a new immune system in the hopes that they don’t have HIV in there and it helps their leukemia.”
For the New York woman, this haplo-cord stem-cell transplant has kept her leukemia in remission for over four years and HIV in remission for three years after the treatment was administered. Researchers are also continuing to monitor the New York woman to ensure that her HIV stays in remission. While the haplo-cord transplant has shown promising results in this New York woman, only “around 50 people in the US a year could be eligible for [the haplo-cord stem cell transplant],” Dr. Torres says in the previously mentioned NBC News broadcast.
“I don’t want people to think that now this is something that can be applied to the 36 million people [globally] who are living with HIV,” Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical advisor to the president of United States, says in an interview with the Community Health Center, Inc. Dr. Fauci continues, “This person had an underlying disease that required a stem cell transplant. . . . It is not practical to think that this is something that’s going to be widely available.”
Although this treatment doesn’t seem to be the global cure for HIV, Dr. Torres says, “It’s giving [researchers] a lot of information on what direction they need to take with HIV research to try and get that elusive cure they’ve been working on for decades and we’re one step closer now.”
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