woman getting a stem cell transplant and flowers blooming at the contact site

First Woman in Remission from HIV After Stem Cell Transplant

A woman living with HIV may be the third person to go into remission from the virus. The woman went into remission following a stem cell transplant. Doctors used stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat the woman for cancer.

What do the study results show?

The US-based study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, started in 2015. The woman was part of a group of 25 people with HIV. Each of the 25 had a transplant using umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and other illnesses. Besides HIV, the woman was also diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She was in remission after having chemotherapy.1

The cord blood came from a partially matched newborn donor who had a mutation in their CCR5 gene. The gene mutation blocks HIV’s power to infect host cells. Doctors supplemented the umbilical cord blood with adult donor cells from a relative, called haplo cells. Over time, the umbilical cord blood cells replicated and replaced the adult stem cells.1

Researchers think killing cancer cells with chemotherapy followed by an umbilical cord blood transplant could help people develop an HIV-resistant immune system.1

Three months after the transplant, the woman had no detectable HIV. After 3 years, she stopped antiretroviral therapy (ART). Over the next 14 months, researchers only detected trace levels of HIV DNA in the woman’s blood cells after she stopped ART.1

What do we know about the woman who received the transplant?

Researchers have said the woman who received the stem cell transplant is multiracial, but have not yet indicated how many or which races make up her ancestry. She had been on ART for 4 years before doctors diagnosed her with acute myeloid leukemia. The woman went into remission from cancer after chemotherapy.1

Before getting the stem cell transplant, the woman had well-controlled but detectable HIV. She is the first woman and the first multiracial person to be seemingly cured of HIV.1

Her remission marks an essential step in the use of stem cells to treat HIV in people of diverse backgrounds. Most stem cell donors are white. Her case shows that a partial donor match could offer new treatment options for people of different races living with HIV.2

What could this breakthrough mean for people with HIV?

Remission from HIV after a stem cell transplant is rare. It has only happened 2 other times that we know of, and both recipients of the transplants also had cancer. The first was a man who went into remission for 12 years but died of leukemia in September 2020. A second man has had undetectable HIV since March 2020.3

Researchers say this most recent case suggests that stem cell transplants using cord blood should be considered to reach remission from HIV. They also say this therapy could be a cure for people living with HIV who also have other illnesses.1

Researchers presented their findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. They have not yet published the results. The International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trial Network (IMPAACT) conducted the study, led by researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University.1

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