A woman receiving treatment for leukaemia in the United States has become the first woman and the third person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to the virus that causes AIDS.
The unnamed 64-year-old woman of mixed race is also the first involving umbilical cord blood, a newer approach that may make the treatment available to more people. The two prior cases occurred in males – one white and one Latino – who had received adult stem cells, which are more frequently used in bone marrow transplants.
She received the umbilical cord blood to treat her acute myeloid leukaemia and she has been in remission and free of the virus for 14 months, without the need for HIV medication.
Sharon Lewin, President-Elect of the International AIDS Society, said in a statement that 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 with HIV who undergo a transplant with stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood for the treatment of cancer and other serious conditions.
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,” she said.
The study suggests 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.