Stem-cell treatment may have cured woman of HIV

  • An HIV-positive woman who received a blood stem cell transplant to treat acute myeloid leukemia appears to have been cured of HIV.
  • The stem cells, from umbilical cord blood, contained a gene variant that makes them resistant to HIV infection.
  • The woman has been free of HIV for 14 months since the treatment.
  • This finding could point toward a cure for HIV for some patients.

A middle-aged, mixed-race, HIV-positive woman has been free of the virus since receiving a blood stem cell transplant for a different condition.

Following high-dose chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia — a treatment that destroys blood cells — the woman received the stem cell transplant from specialists at Weill Cornell Medicine, in New York City.

They used transplant cells from two sources: stem cells from a healthy adult relative and umbilical cord blood from an unrelated newborn. 

Doctors use umbilical cord blood to supply blood stem cells when a good match cannot be found. Cord stem cells are often successful, even when their immune markers only partially match the recipient’s.

The stem cells from the adult donor are used to rapidly restore the patient’s blood cell population. The cord stem cells replicate to replenish the blood cells in the longer term.

For this transplant, the doctors used umbilical blood stem cells containing a gene variant that gives resistance to HIV. The CCR5 gene encodes a cell receptor used by the HIV virus to enter the cells, but the CCR5Δ32 variant blocks the entry of the virus.

Disappearance of HIV

Three months after the treatment, the doctors found that all the patient’s blood cells derived from the HIV-resistant cord blood stem cells. The team detected no HIV when performing highly sensitive assays of the patient’s blood.

The patient then stopped taking antiretroviral drugs to suppress her HIV infection. 

Now, 14 months after the treatment, the HIV infection has not reemerged. The patient has also been leukemia-free for 4 years.

source: Weill Cornell University