A mixed-race woman in New York City appears to be “cured” of HIV after receiving a new cutting-edge treatment.
Following the procedure, the patient stopped taking the antiretroviral medications that kept her HIV in check since her diagnosis in 2103. After 14 months, she has experienced no resurgent virus, reports the New York Times.
A woman of mixed race appears to be the third person ever to be cured of HIV, using a new transplant method involving umbilical cord blood that could make a cure available to more people of diverse racial backgrounds, scientists announced on Tuesday. https://t.co/kuGXmL94oZ pic.twitter.com/IeYO4grOIB
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 15, 2022
Like the two previous patients believed to have been “cured” of HIV, the New York patient had been diagnosed with cancer. In 2017, she was found to have acute myelogenous leukemia.
The new treatment, known as hallo-cord transplant, consists of an initial transplant of infant umbilical cord blood with a mutation that makes it impossible for the HIV virus to infect. Cord blood is reportedly more adaptable than adult stem cells, so an exact matching donor isn’t required as in a normal stem cell transplant.
The following day, the New York patient received an additional transplant of stem cells from an adult relative to temporarily boost the her immune system over the six weeks it took for the cord blood cells to become dominant in her immune system.
The two previous patients believed to have been cured of HIV – known as the Berlin patient and the London patient – were treated with bone marrow transplants which require donors to be exact matches. Both experienced punishing side effects from the treatment.
Dr. JingMei Hsu, the patient’s physician at Weill Cornell Medicine, told the New York Times the combination of cord blood and the relative’s cells might have spared the woman “much of the brutal side effects of a typical bone marrow transplant.”
Thirty-seven months after the transplant, the patient stopped taking antiretroviral meds. Fourteen months later, the level of virus in her blood remains undetectable. And several ultra sensitive tests found no sign of any HIV cells replicating in her system.
NEW: An American research team says it has possibly cured HIV in a woman for the first time. https://t.co/YOA9PkMvZo
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 15, 2022
Still, the doctors are reticent to use the word “cured” just yet, instead favoring the term “remission.” The authors of the case study say if a few years pass with no sign of active virus, they would then consider the New York patient cured.
Dr. Koen van Besien, who was part of the team treating the New York patient, told NBC News he estimates “there are approximately 50 patients per year in the U.S. who could benefit from this procedure.”
Scientists say the success of the procedure in a patient who is mixed-race is particularly important as donors for these procedures have to have the rare genetic mutation that confers immunity to HIV. That abnormality occurs primarily in people with northern European ancestry. Even in that specific population, the mutation occurs at a rate of only about 1 percent.
Dr. Besien explained, “The ability to use partially matched umbilical cord blood greatly increases the likelihood of finding suitable donors for such patients.”