A US woman has become the third known person who’s gone into HIV remission, and the first mixed-race woman, thanks to a transplant of stem cells from umbilical cord blood, according to research presented at a conference Tuesday.
The woman, whom the researchers described as middle-aged and of mixed race, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia four years after an HIV diagnosis, according to an abstract from the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
After the leukemia diagnosis, she received high-dose chemotherapy that destroyed her blood cells. Later, she got a transplant of stem cells from an adult family member to replenish her own blood cell levels. This served as a bridge to maintain her blood cells while she received stem cells through umbilical cord blood from an unrelated newborn, which can take up to a month to start producing cells. The cord blood had a mutation that makes cells resistant to HIV infection.
Just over three years after her 2017 transplant, she stopped taking HIV meds, known as antiretroviral therapy, and had no detectable virus 14 months later.
According to Dr. Marshall Glesby, associate chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine and a member of the research team, the advantage of using cord blood is that it is taken from a national repository that allows scientists to identify blood the HIV-resistant mutation.
This was also the mutation involved in the other two known cases of HIV cured in people who had stem cell transplants.
This mutation is predominantly found in people of northern European descent, limiting the ability to transplant to people who aren’t White. Yet although the patient in this study identified as mixed-race, she was still a match for the transplant, indicating a wider pool of possible transplant recipients from diverse racial backgrounds. Cord blood does not need to be as rigorously matched as adult donor stem cells.