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Researchers announce fourth person possibly cured of HIV

Researchers have announced another case of someone who appears to have been rid of HIV via a stem cell transplant.

WASHINGTON — U.S. researchers say that for the first time, a woman is in remission for HIV and is possibly cured of the virus, using a cutting-edge stem cell transplant method. 

The unidentified New York patient, who had leukemia, now joins a total of three other once-HIV-positive people worldwide whose blood no longer contain any traces of the virus after undergoing experimental treatments. Researchers from the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections indicated that she is the first woman in remission of HIV, as reported by National Institutes of Health.

According to the NIH, the woman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent the stem cell treatment in 2017. Because of her HIV diagnosis, she was initiated into a larger study where researchers would examine whether the specific umbilical cord stem cells used in her remedy -- equipped with a special mutation that makes them resistant to HIV infection -- could help treat the viral load. 

One hundred days after the procedure, the woman's blood no longer contained traces of HIV, and she eventually stopped HIV-specific treatment 37 months post-transplant, the NIH said. Fourteen months after stopping her HIV-remedy, researchers were still unable to detect the virus in her blood. 

Stem cells are a type of cell that have not yet differentiated into other cells, such as neurons in the brain or T-cells used to fight infection. They are the first cells to develop post-conception and can also be found in umbilical cord blood. 

During stem cell transplants, doctors first kill off the patient's immune system using chemotherapy and then inject stem cells into the patients bloodstream with the hope they will differentiate into those needed for a functioning immune system, like those found in bone marrow. 

The differentiated cells will then carry genetic markers of the stem cells, which in the case of this most recent patient means that her new immune cells are resistant against HIV. 

HIV attacks and hides within the immune system, so an immune system with HIV-resistant cells means that the virus has nowhere to multiply. While other modern HIV treatments are incredibly effective, they do not completely eliminate the virus. 

Stem cell treatment is arduous and toxic because of the chemotherapy process, which is why two of the three other patients likely cured of HIV had also undergone cell transplants to treat cancer diagnoses, the NIH reported. 

This is the third reported case of a potential cure for HIV using stem cell transplant therapy and the fourth case overall.

Timothy Ray Brown, known worldwide as "the Berlin patient," was the first person who researchers said had potentially been cured of HIV in 2008 after doctors performed a stem cell transplant from a donor who had natural immunity against HIV. Brown succumbed to his leukemia in 2020. 

The second person to be effectively cured of HIV is Adam Castillejo, known as the "London patient."

"This third case of HIV remission suggests that CCRΔ5/Δ32 cord stem cell transplantation should be considered to achieve HIV remission and cure for people living with HIV who require such a transplant for other diseases, according to the study team," the NIH said.

In another case reported in 2020, a Brazilian man infected with the AIDS virus had shown no sign of it for more than a year since he stopped HIV medicines after an intense experimental drug therapy aimed at purging hidden, dormant virus from his body. 

Travis Pittman contributed to this report.

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