Woman Becomes Third Person to Be Cured of HIV After Researchers Use New Stem Cell Method

A woman is now in remission from HIV after being treated with a transplant of donated umbilical cord blood

HIV infection
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A third person has been cured of HIV through an umbilical cord stem cell transplant, a new method of treatment.

The patient, a mixed-race woman, is now in remission after being diagnosed with the virus in 2013, according to The New York Times. The previous patients — two men named Timothy Ray Brown and Adam Castillejo — were curved of HIV through bone marrow or adult stem cell transplant.

The woman had been diagnosed with leukemia as well as HIV, and was given cord blood to help treat her cancer, per The Times. The cord blood came from a partially matched donor, and the woman also was given blood from a relative so her body would have "temporary immune defenses" during the transplant process, according to The Times.

While both men, who were the first two patients to be cured of HIV, received bone marrow transplants to treat the virus, the woman's case marks a new method in the fight against HIV.

Microscopic view of HIV virus
Alamy Stock Photo

Brown and Castillejo both received bone marrow transplants from donors whose marrow contained an HIV-blocking mutation, according to The Times, which reports that such mutation is rare and often found in donors of Northern European descent.

Although the bone marrow transplant proved successful in both cases, it did not come without consequences for the men; Brown almost died after the procedure and Castillejo lost a significant amount of weight, developed hearing loss and suffered infections, The Times reports.

The woman who was cured through stem cells left the hospital 17 days later and did not develop graft versus host disease, a condition both Brown and Castillejo suffered from following their bone marrow transplants, The Times reports.

According to CNN, the woman received her transplant in 2017, and stopped taking HIV medicine three years later. Fourteen months after stopping antiretroviral therapy, she had "no detectable virus," per CNN.

Dr. Steven Deeks, an AIDS expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times that the woman's case is significant because of her demographic, explaining, "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."

Deeks was not involved in the woman's case.

The woman had been participating in a study that monitored 25 HIV positive patients in the U.S. who underwent a transplant, ABC News reports.

UCLA infectious disease physician Dr. Yvonne Bryson, who led the study that the woman took part in, addressed her case at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections this week.

"Today, we reported the third known case of HIV remission and the first woman following a stem cell transplant and using HIV-resistant cells," Bryson said in a press conference, per ABC News.

"This case is special for several reasons: First, our participant was a U.S. woman living with HIV of mixed race, who needed a stem cell transplant for treatment of her leukemia," she continued. "And she would find a more difficult time finding both a genetic match and one with the HIV-resistant mutation to both cure her cancer and potentially her HIV. This is a natural, but rare mutation."

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Despite the success of the woman's case, researchers caution that the treatment used to cure her HIV is not a widely applicable method.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told Community Health Center, "I don't want people to think that now this is something that can be applied to the 36 million people [globally] who are living with HIV," per ABC News.

Fauci added, "This person had an underlying disease that required a stem cell transplant. ... It is not practical to think that this is something that's going to be widely available. It's more of a proof of concept."

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