An American woman with leukemia has become the first woman, and only the third person, to be cleared of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to an announcement from researchers at a conference in Denver, Colorado last week.
Antiretroviral therapy has long kept HIV at bay for many who has tested “positive,” but it is not a cure. Now, though, there are three cases of a genuine cure, from positive to negative, and the latest one has a surprising feature.
The woman received a stem cell transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to the virus, according to the Feb. 15 announcement from the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
The HIV/AIDS cure was in essence a side effect of the treatment this patient was receiving for her acute myeloid leukemia – a cancer that develops in blood-forming cells in bone marrow.
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One hopeful fact, the surprising feature of this cure: the stem cells the woman received came from umbilical blood. For the two men cured earlier the stem cells had come from adult donors. The use of umbilical cord blood as a source for stem cells is a newer approach and may make stem cell treatment available to larger numbers of patients.
Umbilical cords are often simply discarded as medical waste after a birth. It is only slowly becoming apparent that they may be a valuable resource.