Scientists ‘cure’ female HIV patient for first time using breakthrough stem cell transplant


Patient manages to remain off HIV medication and “asymptomatic and healthy” following treatment


A pioneering American research team reported that it has possibly cured HIV in a woman for the first time using a cutting-edge stem cell transplant method. The team reportedly expect that the method will expand the pool of people who could receive similar treatment to several dozen annually.


The unnamed woman, who is middle-aged, of mixed-race and who was diagnosed with HIV in 2013 and leukaemia in 2017, is known only as ‘New York Patient’ and becomes the first woman believed to be cured of HIV and third person overall.


The female patient received her treatment, known as a haplo-cord transplant, at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.


Scientists  Dr. Yvonne J. Bryson and Dr. Deborah Persaud made the announcement at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday (15 February) having administered the treatment four years ago. 


The Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – a division of the National Institutes of Health – funded the research network behind the latest success story and its director, Carl Dieffenbach, told NBC News that “the accumulation of repeated apparent triumphs in curing HIV ‘continues to provide hope’” 


“The fact that she’s mixed-race, and that she’s a woman, that is really important scientifically and really important in terms of the community impact,” Dr Steven Deeks, University of California, San Francisco AIDS expert, said according to reports by the New York Times



Dr van Besien, from the stem cell transplant programme, said: “We estimate that there are approximately 50 patients per year in the U.S. who could benefit from this procedure.


While the usual practice  for this type of procedure is to find a bone marrow donor whose race and ethnicity is similar to that of the patient, with the new transplant method, which uses blood from the umbilical cord, it does not require the type of blood to be matched as closely to the recipient as other methods and there is a lot more of it available than the adult stem cells usually used.


The patient also received blood from a family member as the transplant was settling in order to boost her immune system. 


According to reports by NBC News, Dr. Persaud said that despite being “very excited” over the apparently cured woman, the treatment is “still not a feasible strategy for all but a handful of the millions of people living with HIV.”


Meanwhile Aidsmap reports that President-elect of the International AIDS Society, Professor Sharon Lewin, cautiously stated that bone marrow transplants are not a “viable large-scale strategy for curing HIV”, but that the case “does present a proof of concept that HIV can be cured”.


From a medical standpoint, ‘New York Patient’ will be considered fully cured if there are still no signs of an active HIV virus over the next couple of years.


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