For the first time, a woman is said to be in remission from HIV thanks to a new transplant method. This American, who was also being treated for leukemia, received a stem cell transplant from an umbilical cord. His blood work since then has shown no signs of the AIDS virus. If her condition remains stable, this patient would be the third person in the world to be saved from HIV through a transplant, after patients in London and Berlin. This is encouraging news, although this transplant method is not viable for most HIV-positive people, experts say.
The unprecedented case of this patient was presented by US researchers on Tuesday, February 15 at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), in Denver, USA. This American in his fifties (who prefers to remain anonymous) is said to be in remission from HIV and cancer thanks to a transplant of two types of stem cells. A method that had never been tested until now, as reported Futura Sciences†
No more traces of the virus
This “New York patient” – referring to the city where she is being treated – was diagnosed with HIV in 2013. She was prescribed antiretroviral drug treatment and managed to keep her virus level at a low level. In 2017, doctors diagnosed him with leukemia (Editor’s Note: A cancer that arises in blood stem cells). As part of her cancer treatment, the patient was transplanted with two types of stem cells: cells from the blood of a compatible adult donor who was close to the patient, and umbilical cord blood stem cells. These come from a donor who has a genetic mutation, which is naturally present in a handful of individuals, and which can block HIV’s access to cells.
The primary goal of the transplant was to cure leukemia and the results seem convincing: She was declared in remission, indicate: International Mail† The patient is also said to have stopped her antiretroviral treatment 14 months ago, in consultation with her doctors, without a recurrence of the virus. The blood test that was subsequently performed on this American indeed showed no sign of the AIDS virus, and no specific antibodies against this virus were found.
A hopeful but ‘unsustainable’ treatment for most HIV-positive people
Previously, only two HIV patients were cured after adult stem cell transplantation. They are Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the “Berlin patient” and Adam Castillejo, the “London patient”. Both men also had cancer and had undergone bone marrow transplants from donors with natural resistance to HIV. These transplants had caused significant side effects in both cases. For its part, the “New York patient” would have been spared many of the brutal side effects that usually follow these transplants. A result that could be explained by the combination of blood from the umbilical cord and the cells of the parents, said Dr. Hsu, as reported by the New York Times†
If this woman’s health remains constant, she will be the first patient to be cured of HIV thanks to an adult and umbilical cord stem cell transplant. But while it brings hope, this news does not bring the prospect of treatment for all HIV-positive people any closer. Indeed, the transplant used in this patient’s case would not be a viable cure for most people living with HIV, warned Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International Aids Society, quoted by the BBC News site. However, the expert added that this case “confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens the use of gene therapy as a viable strategy for a cure for HIV. †
As the cure for this patient opens up new avenues for scientific research, the main hopes for a cure for HIV today are centered more on vaccines and drugs. able to eradicate the virus.