On Feb. 15, 2022, it was reported that a woman, an unnamed New Yorker, is now the third person to to potentially be cured of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to the fatal acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated.
This recent feat was accomplished via a new method that utilized blood from an umbilical cord in combination with adult stem cells from a relative’s blood. The umbilical cord was obtained from a cord-blood bank and was particularly selected because it contained an HIV-resistant genetic mutation that became activated in the immune system.
The woman was living with both leukemia and HIV, and was primarily being treated for her leukemia. Doctors did not expect the eradication of her HIV as a result of this treatment.
The other two patients that were previously cured of HIV, Timothy Ray Brown and Adam Castillejo, are both male. Their cures also both involved the same stem cell transplant with the HIV-resistant mutation, but in their case, it was a bone marrow transplant rather than a cord blood transplant.
Bone marrow transplants are much more difficult than cord blood transplants, which are more unprecedented in terms of treating HIV.
One hundred days post-transplant, the patient’s new immune system containing the cord blood dominated. A little over two years post-operation, she decided to stop HIV treatment in order to measure the efficacy of the transplant. M.D. Yvonne Bryson, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the UCLA School of Medicine, reported that the patient tested negative for HIV in this time period, indicating that her cells are now fully HIV resistant.
It has now been a year since the patient tested HIV-negative, and she has been in remission since ceasing treatment. However, scientists caution against using the word “cure,” citing instances in which HIV has reappeared in patients even after a long dormant period.
Additionally, it is important to note that it is very dangerous to attempt an HIV cure via a stem cell transplant due to potential complications, including death. This new treatment and its results are promising, but there’s much more work to be done before widespread use.
We can, however, still view the success in treating the patient extremely favorably and as a building block towards helping others living with HIV in the future. The apparent success in eradicating HIV in this case is a large step forward in the fight against this disease as well as for the many communities that are at high risk of an HIV infection.