Groundbreaking treatment has officially been conducted in a recent case of HIV.
NBC News reports that an American research group may have cured HIV in a woman for the first time ever. Now, the patient has entered a rare club made up of three men who have been cured, or close to being cured, of the disease.
Building on past success within the field of HIV research, scientists were able to use a cutting-edge stem cell transplant method anticipated to expand across more patients with HIV in the foreseeable future.
With this huge leap toward a cure for a disease that has plagued the U.S. since 1981, the director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Carl Dieffenbach, notes that the latest progression “continues to provide hope.”
Despite many instances of success in HIV research, there have also been a lot of learning curves along the journey to finding a cure, that is, until now.
“It’s important that there continues to be success along this line,” said Dieffenbach.
In 2008, an American patient by the name of Timothy Ray Brown was treated for acute myeloid leukemia, also known as AML.
During the procedure, the patient received a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic abnormality that in turn granted his immune cells natural resistance to HIV.
Since Brown’s case, the same procedure has reportedly cured the disease within two other people, but it has also failed many patients.
Referred to as the “New York patient” since the treatment was conducted at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center located in New York City, the most recent patient is that glimmer of hope toward a brighter future for those living with the disease. After being diagnosed with HIV in 2013, the patient was also diagnosed with leukemia in 2017.
The Weill Cornell team developed what is called a haplo-cord transplant to help expand cancer treatment options for patients who aren’t able to find HLA-identical donors due to blood malignancies.
Initially, the patient with cancer will receive a blood transplant conducted through an umbilical cord carrying blood that has stem cells which are equivalent to a powerful, growing immune system.
Over the course of one day, the patient receives a larger transplant of adult stem cells, which start off flourishing rapidly before ultimately being replaced by cord blood cells.
In comparison to adult stem cells, the cord blood proves to be more adaptable and requires less of a close HLA match to successfully treat cancer. It is also known to have fewer complications.
While cord blood works effectively in that sense — on the flip side, it doesn’t create enough cells to be an effective cancer treatment in adults, thus these blood transplants have always been more successful for pediatric patients.
With the current haplo-cord transplant conducted on the New York Patient, additional transplantation of stem cells drawn for an adult donor has provided a host of cells that have helped compensate for the paucity of cord blood cells.
“The role of the adult donor cells is to hasten the early engraftment process and render the transplant easier and safer,” said Dr. Koen van Besien who makes up the team that successfully rendered the treatment alongside Dr. Jingmei Hsu and Dr. Marshall Glesby.
Despite the most recent success, scientists say that this is “still not a feasible strategy for all but a handful of the millions of people living with HIV.”
“We estimate that there are approximately 50 patients per year in the U.S. who could benefit from this procedure,” said van Besien. “The ability to use partially matched umbilical cord blood grafts greatly increases the likelihood of finding suitable donors for such patients.”
The New York Patient is currently still in remission from her leukemia diagnosis of over four years. Three years following her transplant. both she and doctors have discontinued her HIV treatment.
Fourteen months have passed and she has yet to experience the resurgent virus.