A New York woman is the world’s first woman possibly cured of HIV thanks to a transplant of HIV-resistant umbilical cord stem cells, which were combined with those from a close relative to increase the chances of success
Act of the HIV and AIDS Associations of the Valencian Community (CALCSICOVA) on the International Day of Action against HIV and AIDS. EFE/Juan Carlos Cárdenas
The so-called New York patient also suffered from a type of leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant, and has been virus-free since 2017, a period which, for other similar cases, is considered reasonable to consider that she may be cured She is the first woman cured of HIV.
This case was announced a year ago at a medical congress, but until now the results had not been published in any scientific journal, which today Cell the team, led by the University of California (UCLA) and Johns Hopkins.
Today four people are considered cured of HIV, the patients in Berlin, London, Düsseldorf and now New York.
They all also suffered from leukemia that required a bone marrow transplant, a risky operation that is only indicated for hematological cancers.
Woman cured of HIV is middle-aged and ‘racially mixed’
The case of the New York patient, a middle-aged woman who identifies as “racially mixed”, cured of HIV, has several peculiarities compared to others, the first to undergo a stem cell transplant resistant to HIV from umbilical cord blood and not from a compatible adult donor.
The team believes that the treatment has produced satisfactory long-term results, the study says, and that using cord blood stem cells increases the chance of curing HIV in people of all racial backgrounds.
“The HIV epidemic is racially diverse, and it is extremely rare for people of color or of diverse race to find a sufficiently compatible adult unrelated donor,” explained Yvonne Bryson of UCLA and co-director of the study.
However, the use of umbilical cord blood cells “expands the opportunities for people of diverse ancestry living with HIV who require a transplant for other illnesses to achieve a cure.”
Patients in Berlin, London and Düsseldorf received stem cell transplants from matched adults who carried two copies of the CCR5-delta32 mutation, a naturally occurring mutation that confers resistance to HIV by preventing the virus from entering cells and infect them.
Only about 1% of white people are homozygous for the CCR5-delta32 mutation, and it is even rarer in other populations, which limits the possibility of transplanting into patients of color, as transplants of stem cells usually require a great compatibility of donor and recipient.
These conditions made it almost impossible to find an adult donor with the mutation mentioned and compatible with the patient, so the team transplanted her, in 2017, stem cells carrying CCR5-delta32/32 from stored umbilical cord blood to try to cure cancer and HIV simultaneously.
In addition, these cells were infused with stem cells from one of the patient’s relatives to increase the chances of the procedure being successful.
“With umbilical cord blood, you don’t have as many cells and it takes a little longer to populate the body after its infusion”, but using a mixture of stem cells from a relative and blood from umbilical cord “gives a boost to the umbilical cord blood cells,” Bryson said.
The transplant put both HIV and leukemia into remission
The transplant managed to put both HIV and leukemia into remission, which has been going on for more than four years.
Thirty-seven months after the transplant, the patient was able to stop taking anti-HIV antiviral medication.
The doctors who follow him say he has been HIV-free for more than 30 months since he stopped antiretroviral treatment (at the time the study was written, only 18 months had passed).
“Stem cell transplants with CCR5-delta32/32 cells offer a two-for-one cure for people living with HIV and blood cancers,” said Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University and co-director of the study, quoted by Cell.
However, because of the invasiveness of the procedure, stem cell transplants (both with and without the mutation) are only considered for people who need a transplant for other reasons, and not to cure in isolation the HIV, a disease for which there is medication.
The study also highlights the importance of having CCR5-delta32/32 cells in stem cell transplants for HIV patients, since all cures, so far, “have been with this cell population mutated cells, and the studies in which new stem cells without this mutation have been transplanted have failed to cure HIV”, emphasized Persaud.