Patient who appears cured of HIV received umbilical cord blood cells

A woman who had leukemia and was HIV-positive appears to have become the third person ever to be cured of HIV, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

This case is the first to use umbilical cord blood cells and the first to treat someone who is multi-racial. 

Dr. Jingmei Hsu, a stem cell transplant specialist with Weill Cornell Medicine, was the transplant doctor for the woman. She said the treatment appears to have cured the patient's leukemia and also appears to have cured her HIV.

"Transplant was able to replace patient's blood immune system so the HIV virus can no longer infect the patient," Hsu said. "So far, we're not detecting any HIV."

However, Hsu stopped short of saying the patient has definitely been cured of HIV.

"As far as we can tell at this point, we still cannot say — I will not say completely cured, but possibly cured," Hsu said.

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Hsu said stem cells from umbilical cord blood would not be used to treat just HIV. It is used to treat cancer but apparently has produced an added benefit for the patient with HIV. In addition, the umbilical cord blood does not need to be matched as closely to a recipient as stem cells used in bone marrow transplants.

Dr. Rabia De Latour of NYU Langone Health explained why this treatment is very promising.

"The reason that's so important and novel is that cord blood is much more readily available than stem cells that are actually harvested from adults and adult donors," De Latour said.