On Tuesday, researchers announced that a U.S patient of mixed race with leukemia became the first woman, and the third person to be cured of HIV.
Researchers from the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections indicated that she is the first woman in remission of HIV, as reported by National Institutes of Health. The patent received a stem cell transplant from a donor that was resistant to HIV. It was also the first involving umbilical cord blood, a newer approach that may make the treatment available to more people.
According to researchers, the procedure was to treat her acute myeloid leukemia which is cancer that starts in blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. Since receiving treatment, she has been in remission and free of the virus for 14 months.
In the two prior cases, a white and Latino male received adult stem cells which are more frequently used in bone marrow transplants.
A U.S-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 involves this case.
The study follows 25 people with HIV who undergo a transplant with stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and other serious conditions.
Those in the first trial undergo chemotherapy to kill off the cancerous immune cells. Stem cells with specific genetic mutations that lack receptors used by the virus to infect cells would be transplanted by doctors.
Scientists believed these individuals would develop an immune system resistant to HIV, and the transplant of HIV-resistant cells is important to the transplant's success.
According to Sharon Lewin, President-Elect of the International AIDS Society, it was previously believed that a common stem cell transplant side-effect called graft-versus-host disease played a role in the cure. The side effect is the donor's immune system attacking the recipient’s immune system.
"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.