A leukaemia patient in the US has become the first woman and the third person ever to be cured of HIV, after receiving a transplant of umbilical cord blood in a novel treatment technique, a New York Times report said. The previous two male patients who had been cured received expensive bone marrow transplants. Both kinds of transplants have stem cells with a mutation that blocks HIV.

What

  1. The latest case was presented this week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Denver, Colorado.
  2. The results show great promise in facilitating more accessible HIV treatments, especially for those who are already suffering from cancer. Cord blood is much more widely available than adult stem cells that are used in bone marrow transplants.
  3. The middle-age woman is of mixed race and received a partial match, unlike the previous bone marrow transplants where a closer racial match is required and donors are primarily Caucasian.
  4. Earlier, two other women had naturally cured themselves of HIV by locking away the virus in their genome in what is a ‘sterilising cure’, where the body eliminates the virus completely.

Cord blood treatment

  1. The US mixed-race patient had been diagnosed with HIV in 2013 and had been on antiretroviral drugs.
  2. In March 2017, she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukaemia, and in August the same year, received the mutation-containing cord blood transplant.
  3. She has not shown any signs of relapse since October 2020, when she received the transplant.
  4. Antiretroviral therapy, which typically is a drug cocktail that prevents replication and keeps viral levels low, was discontinued 37 months after the transplant, and 14 months since then, she continues to be in remission. Blood tests show no signs of both HIV and antibodies to HIV.
  5. While the blood from her relatives formed a crucial aid in keeping the immune system running until the cord blood cells took over, it is still unclear why cord cells were so effective.

Previous cures

  1. In 2008, Timothy Ray Brown from California, who came to be known as the ‘Berlin Patient’, was the first to be cured of AIDS. His identity was revealed in 2010, and he died in 2020 from leukaemia.
  2. Adam Castillejo, who was known as the ‘London Patient’, was the second to be cured, in 2019.
  3. Both men had painful and expensive bone marrow transplants from donors with a rare genetic mutation that is resistant to HIV. They were also on antiretroviral therapy.