Functional cure for HIV in first female patient

February 18, 2022
Functional cure for HIV in first female patient

A leukaemia patient who received a stem cell transplant from someone with natural resistance to the human immunosuppressant virus (HIV), was reported to be virus-free for 14 months. The New York patient is believed to be the third person in the world, and the first woman, to be “cured” of HIV.

The previous two people cured of HIV had received adult stem cells as part of bone marrow transplants. All three patients had cancer – the transplants were intended to help with treating the cancer and not HIV.

In this case, the woman patient, who received a transplant of umbilical cord blood as part of her cancer treatment, has since not needed to take lifesaving antiretroviral therapy for HIV.

[Umbilical cord blood is more widely available than the adult stem cells and does not require as close a match between donor and recipient.]

The case was part of a larger US study of HIV patients who had received the same type of blood transplant to treat cancer and serious diseases. The transplanted cells have a specific genetic mutation which means they can’t be infected by the HIV virus. Meanwhile, scientists believe the immune system of recipients can develop resistance to HIV because of the transplant.

However, medical experts caution the transplant method used is too risky to be suitable as a cure for most people with HIV – some 37 million people. Currently, antiretroviral therapy is the best bet for treatment as it gives people with HIV a near-normal life expectancy.

Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International Aids Society, said that the case nevertheless “confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens [using] gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure.”

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