An American woman infected with HIV has become the world’s third man and first woman to be completely free from the disease, however experts have advised to be careful in responding. The woman was being treated for leukemia (bone marrow cancer) after she received a stem cell transplant from someone who had natural resistance to the virus that caused AIDS.
This woman is now virus-free for the past 14 months. However, experts say the transplant method used for this patient is not suitable for most patients with HIV. The case was presented at a medical conference here in Denver Tuesday and it is the first time this method has been used as an active treatment for HIV.
The patient received an umbilical cord blood transplant as part of his cancer treatment and since then he didn’t have to undergo the required anti-retro viral therapy to treat HIV. The case was part of a major American study into HIV victims, including individuals who had the same-type blood transplants to treat cancer and serious diseases. The cells that were transplanted have a specific genetic variation that means they cannot be affected by the HIV virus.
Scientists think the immune system of people who were treated this way could result in developing resistance to HIV. All the stories about the treatment of HIV are truly appreciable and joyful. This proves that the disease is possible to cure. But this perspective does not give us hope of ensuring treatment for the three million 70 million people living with HIV, most of whom live in Africa.
He received a transplant from a donor, whose immune system was naturally against HIV.
The feat has only been repeated twice since then, first with a patient named Adam Castilljo and now with this patient from New York.
Eight misconceptions about AIDS
‘I felt like my blood and sperm were poisonous’
‘The day was no less than the doomsday when my husband, children and I were diagnosed with AIDS’
These three people had cancer and needed a stem cell transplant to save their lives. Treating their HIV was not the primary goal of doctors and using this treatment on everyone with HIV could be dangerous.
Remember, anti-retroviral therapy enables HIV-infected individuals to lead normal lives. Focus is on basic methods of treating this disease like vaccines or medicines that can drive the virus out of the body.
HIV-free American woman’s treatment included tap blood, unlike the previous two cases where patients were given adult stem cells as part of a bone marrow transplant. A blood is more widely available than adult stem cells and there is no need for any sales or blood matches between donors and takers.
Sharon Leon, President of the International AIDS Society, warned that the transplant method used in the case will not be a practical treatment for most people living with HIV. But he said the case ‘proves that HIV is possible and gene therapy should be used as a viable strategy to treat HIV.’
The results of this latest case study are yet to be published in the journal, so broader scientific understanding is still limited.