According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), nearly 38 million people worldwide — approximately 50% of whom are women — live with HIV, including an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States. Antiviral medicine, while effective in suppressing HIV in a person’s body, must be taken during the course of a patient’s entire life.
A group of researchers, including Deborah Persaud, interim director of the Eudowood Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, who co-led the study, have found that transplanting HIV-resistant stem cells from umbilical cord blood led to HIV remission and possibly cure in a woman of mixed race. The findings of this study, published in Cell, reveal this approach was successfully used to treat the “New York patient,” a middle-aged woman with HIV and leukemia.
In 2017, in an effort to cure her cancer and HIV simultaneously, the patient, who identifies as mixed race, received a transplant of HIV-resistant stem cells from umbilical cord blood along with adult donor cells — a procedure called haploidentical (haplo)-cord transplantation. During the haplo-cord procedure, which is often used to treat cancer, the patient received two infusions of cord blood cells and adult donor cells, since donor cells from a compatible or “matched” adult are rare and cord blood cells come in small quantities.
Persaud says this procedure of bridging cells successfully put both the patient’s HIV and leukemia into remission — making her the first woman and patient to ever achieve remission this way. Her transplant has now lasted more than four and a half years, and at the time this report was written, she has been HIV negative for 18 months. Researchers say she is now the fourth person in remission, and is likely cured of HIV with this type of transplantation.