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First Woman Reported To Be HIV-Free After Stem Cell Transplant

    First Woman Reported To Be HIV-Free After Stem Cell Transplant

    A leukemia patient in the United States becomes the first woman and only the third person to be successfully treated for HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to the virus that causes AIDS.

    The Case of a 64-year Old Patient

    Researchers presented the case of a 64-year-old mixed-race woman at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver. They also shared that it is also the first to make use of umbilical cord blood in stem cell transplants. This is a newer approach that could make the treatment more accessible to more people.

    She has been in remission and virus-free for 14 months after getting the cord blood to treat her acute myeloid leukemia. This certain type of leukemia refers to cancer involving the blood and bone marrow. It takes place in the bone marrow producing an abnormally large number of cancer cells. It can occasionally spread to other parts of the body, such as the following:

    • Lymph nodes
    • Liver
    • Spleen
    • Central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)
    • Testicles

    Aside from being HIV-free, she no longer needed the assistance of some powerful HIV treatments, particularly antiretroviral therapy.

    The previous two cases involved males – one white and one Latino – who had received adult stem cells, which are more commonly 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, stated.

    Part of a Bigger Study

    The case is part of a larger study funded by the United States and led by Dr. Yvonne Bryson of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The study intends to follow 25 people infected with HIV who receive stem cell transplants.

    Patients in the trial are first given chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. After which, doctors conduct stem cell transplants from people who have a specific genetic mutation that causes them to lack receptors that the virus uses to infect cells.

    Scientists believe that these people have immunity that is resistant to HIV.

    According to Lewin, bone marrow transplants are not a solid option for curing most HIV patients. However, the report confirms that an “HIV cure is possible and strengthens the use of gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure,” she said.

    According to the study, the transplantation of HIV-resistant appears to be an important factor in the study’s success. Previously, scientists thought that graft-versus-host disease, a common stem cell transplant side effect 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,” she explained.

    More About HIV and Stem Cell Treatment

    The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, refers to the virus that infects immune system cells. It impairs the body’s ability to fight infection and disease. Infection can eventually lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) which manifests with symptoms such as susceptibility to infections, cancers, and other diseases, and eventually death.

    Stem cell transplant is a type of procedure that can help treat different types of cancer. Some people may also refer to it as peripheral stem cell transplant or cord blood transplant.

    To prepare the body for transplantation, the patient receives high doses of chemotherapy and, in some cases, radiation therapy prior. Afterward, the stem cells move to the bone marrow. It then initiates the process of making new, healthy blood cells such as white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

    Stem cell transplants for HIV mainly involve substituting the person’s immune system with one that the virus cannot infect. In late 2010, scientists revealed that Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the “Berlin Patient,” had effectively had his HIV “cured” as part of leukemia treatment. Back then, he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with cells resistant to HIV.

    Learn more about HIV/ AIDs here.

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    First woman reported cured of HIV after stem cell transplant, https://technology.inquirer.net/114903/first-woman-reported-cured-of-hiv-after-stem-cell-transplant, Accessed February 16, 2022 

    Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version, https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/adult-aml-treatment-pdq, Accessed February 16, 2022

    What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/about/what-is-aml.html, Accessed February 16, 2022 

    Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplant, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/stem-cell-transplant.html, Accessed February 16, 2022 

    HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet, https://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/disease-information/hivaids-fact-sheet, Accessed February 16, 2022

    Stem Cell Transplantation, https://www.lls.org/treatment/types-treatment/stem-cell-transplantation, Accessed February 16, 2022 

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    Written by Fiel Tugade Updated Feb 16
    Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza
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