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May 21, 2022
Woman Apparently Cured Of HIV Using Umbilical Cord Blood, Scientists Say
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Woman Apparently Cured Of HIV Using Umbilical Cord Blood, Scientists Say

Topline
A woman appears to have been cured of HIV with a therapy using stem cells in umbilical cord blood, scientists at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center say, making her the fourth person, and the first woman, apparently cured of the disease, and possibly allowing doctors to attempt a cure on dozens of people per year.

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T cell.

niaid

Key Facts

The patient has shown no signs of HIV infection since she stopped treatment for the virus in October 2020, following a transplant of umbilical-cord stem cells containing a mutation that blocks HIV, as well as a transplant of stem cells from an adult relative, making her the first person apparently cured using umbilical cord blood, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The stem cell treatment is highly risky, requiring doctors to destroy the patient’s immune system using chemotherapy or radiation and to rebuild it with new cells, making the therapy unsuitable for anyone who does not have cancer or another potentially fatal condition, NBC reported.

The treatment is likely to be suitable for a broader range of people than the transplants of adult stems cells used to cure three other patients of HIV, because the cord blood doesn’t need to be a genetic match with the patient, probably expanding the number of people who could receive treatment to 50 annually, researchers said.

Key Background
HIV may have passed from chimpanzees to humans as early as the late 1800s, but was unknown in the U.S. until the 1970s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV can lead to AIDS, which disables the immune system so severely that otherwise minor illnesses can become fatal. Though a true cure for HIV has been elusive, antiretroviral therapy allows people with HIV to avoid developing AIDS and to live long, healthy lives. In 2008, doctors in Berlin reported they had cured a patient with HIV for the first time, using a treatment relying on stem cells that genetically matched the patient and contained a rare mutation. The more recently developed therapy using umbilical-cord cells does not require a genetic match to the patient, making it easier to find suitable donors, researchers said. The therapy used in Berlin has proven somewhat unreliable, with at least two patients undergoing the risky procedure only to again test positive for HIV months later.

Big Number
1.19 million. That’s about how many people age 13 and older had HIV in the U.S. in 2019, according to the CDC.

Contra
Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Deborah Persuad told NBC that, while she was “very excited” about the new apparent HIV cure, stem cell treatments are only available to treat a handful of the millions of people with HIV worldwide.

Further Reading
“Woman Appears Cured of HIV After Umbilical-Cord Blood Transplant” (Wall Street Journal)

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