First woman in history ‘cured’ of HIV after receiving rare but dangerous stem cell treatment to fight both virus and cancer
- The woman, dubbed the “New York Patient”, was functionally cured of HIV, becoming the fourth person in history and the first woman.
- Four years ago, she underwent a dangerous stem cell treatment that has since cleansed her body of the virus and cancer.
- Because of how risky the treatment is, experts recommend using it only for cancer patients who may die without major medical intervention.
- Doctors can’t find replicating HIV cells in her body, and the cells in her body can’t be infected in a lab.
For the first time, a woman was cured of HIV.
The woman, dubbed the “New York patient” by scientists at Weill Cornell New York-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, beat the virus after receiving a rare but dangerous stem cell treatment.
She is the fourth person to ever be cured of HIV (the previous three were all men), and experts have found two cases where women have somehow beaten the virus naturally.
The woman also had cancer and received treatment designed to fight both diseases at the same time, but it is also so risky that it has been deemed “unethical” to use it on people who do not have an advanced cancer diagnosis.
To administer this treatment, doctors must first find a donor with a rare mutation that makes them resistant to the virus.
The woman, dubbed the “New York Patient”, became the first woman to be functionally cured of HIV after receiving the rare virus. but dangerous, stem cell treatment four years ago (file photo)
Experts tell NBC that people who have this mutation are usually Northern Europeans, and even then only one percent of that population has it.
Doctors then perform a “haploidentical cord transplant,” which uses cord blood and bone marrow from a donor.
Cord blood helps fight blood-related cancers, such as leukemia, from which a woman suffered, while bone marrow provides the body with stem cells.
Because cord blood is usually not as effective in adults as it is in children, a stem cell transplant can help increase its effectiveness.
“The role of adult donor cells is to speed up the early engraftment process and make transplantation easier and safer,” Dr. Coen van Bezien, one of the lead physicians who conducted the New York patient’s examination, told NBC.
Because this stem cell treatment can often lead to the death of the patient, experts would not use it to treat a healthy person who can manage their HIV with conventional methods.
Instead, they are focusing on this treatment for people in the advanced stages of a cancer diagnosis, who are most likely to die anyway unless major medical intervention is done.
Researchers say up to 50 of the more than one million Americans battling HIV can undergo this procedure each year.
The woman in question was diagnosed with HIV in 2013 and leukemia in 2017, making her a potential candidate.
She has been on treatment four years since her cancer went into remission and her HIV treatment was discontinued last winter.
The treatment is only recommended for people who are already suffering from advanced cancer, which is likely to kill them anyway due to how risky it is. They also need stem cells from northern Europeans with a very specific mutation that makes them resistant to HIV (archive photo).
Her body responded well to the treatment, doctors say, and she quickly saw positive results.
Despite stopping HIV treatment over a year ago, she did not develop the virus. A rescan of her body revealed no HIV cells capable of replicating.
They also took cells from her body and tried to infect them in the lab, but failed.
If a few more years go by and doctors still can’t detect HIV in her body and can’t infect her cells, then it will be convenient for them to declare her “cured” of the virus.
“I’m very happy that everything turned out so well for her,” Dr. Yvonne Bryson said in an interview with NBC.
She added that the New York patient’s case added “more hope and more opportunity for the future” of HIV treatment.