The woman received a stem cell transplant at Weill Cornell Medicine to treat her acute myeloid leukemia, which she developed due to HIV. courtesy Wikimedia Commons

First woman cured of HIV using umbilical cord blood

After receiving a stem cell transplant, a middle-aged woman has become the third person to be cured of HIV.

A middle-aged woman who wished to remain anonymous became the first woman and third person ever to be cured of HIV. The woman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in March 2017, a cancer that begins in the bone marrow’s blood-forming cells. She received treatment for her cancer that was caused by HIV in the form of a stem cell transplant.

The woman received stem cells from umbilical cord blood that were fortified with a mutation that blocks HIV from entering her cells. She also received partially matched stem cells from the blood of a first-degree relative. This method of stem cell transplant did not require the woman to undergo potent HIV treatments called antiretroviral therapy like the two prior cases who received adult stem cells. The woman has been free of HIV and in remission for 14 months.

The woman’s treatment was among the first to involve umbilical cord blood, whereas the two men who were cured of the virus prior received adult stem cells. Utilizing umbilical cord blood is a new approach that can make the treatment more widely accessible. Scientists believe that because umbilical cord blood comes from newborns, these stem cells are “more adaptable” than adult stem cells according to Dr. Koen van Besien, transplant service director at Weill Cornell Medicine. Also, haplo-cord transplants, which use umbilical cord blood, allow recipients who are only partial blood-type matches to get the transplant.

The woman’s case is part of a larger study led by Dr. Yvonne Bryson from the University of California Los Angeles and Dr. Deborah Persaud from Johns Hopkins University. The study involves following 25 people with HIV who receive stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and other conditions.

These patients first undergo chemotherapy to kill cancerous immune cells. Then doctors perform transplants where the stem cells are sourced from individuals with a genetic mutation that causes them to lack receptors used by the virus to infect other cells. Scientists believe the patients develop immunity to HIV through this process.

President-Elect of the International AIDS Society, Sharon Lewin, said that bone marrow transplants are not a viable strategy to cure most people living with HIV. However, the study “confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens using gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure,” she stated.

The first men who were cured of HIV were Timothy Brown and Adam Castillejo. Both men received bone marrow transplants from adult donors with a mutation that blocks HIV infection. Although the procedures eliminated the virus, Brown nearly died when he suffered graft versus host disease and Castillejo suffered hearing loss and combated many infections. Brown died of cancer in 2020 after being cured of the virus 12 years ago.

The woman who was cured developed no severe infections and reportedly left the hospital post-op after 17 days according to physicians at Weill Cornell.

Post Author: Shelby Hiens