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An American woman became the third person and first woman possibly cured of HIV after undergoing a stem cell transplant from a donor with natural resistance to the AIDS-causing virus, a novel treatment that may open up cure options for more people, it was reported Tuesday.
Woman cured of HIV after stem cell transplant
This was announced during a conference held in Denver, Colorado, USA, by the team of specialists who treated her in New York.
The patient, they explained, has not had detectable levels of HIV for 14 months despite having stopped antiretroviral treatment, so she is considered free of the virus and will be considered cured if there are no changes.
The “New York Patient”
This would make her the third person worldwide to be cured of the virus and the first woman, as the two cases known so far were men.
The woman known as the “New York Patient”, in order to maintain her anonymity, is a woman of mixed race (father and mother of different races) and was first diagnosed with HIV and then with leukemia.
The woman received a stem cell transplant from an umbilical cord, supplemented with adult cells donated by a family member.
A major breakthrough
The technique is similar to the one used in the case of the two known cures so far, which is based on the use of stem cells from individuals who have a genetic mutation that makes them resistant to HIV, but according to experts the use of cells from an umbilical cord instead of an adult donor is considered a possible breakthrough.
According to scientists, the use of umbilical cord blood does not require the same level of compatibility between donor and recipient that is required in the case of adult cells, which could make this type of treatment beneficial to more people.
In any case, experts warn that curing HIV through stem cell transplants is still limited for now to cases in which the patient suffers from cancer or another serious illness that justifies a very complex and potentially fatal procedure.
According to Deborah Persaud, the Johns Hopkins University specialist who heads the program in which this research was conducted, told NBC News, stem cell therapy “remains a feasible strategy for only a handful of the millions of people living with HIV”.