Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), as known already, is a deadly virus that aims for the body’s immune system; weakens and destroys it, making the body prone to AIDS other infections. No cure has been discovered yet for this deadly virus; scientists are still on the move to finding a cure. In the history of the treatment of patients with the virus, only two men have been cured of it – the men had leukemia alongside the virus, so their treatment included a bone marrow transplant from donors known to have a genetic mutation that resists HIV infections.
Recently researchers at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center who have been treating a woman for both HIV and leukemia, have made it known that she is the 3rd person to have been cured of the virus. They reported that the woman is currently still testing negative, even after 14 months of not receiving antiretroviral therapy – the only best treatment presently known for the infection.
As part of the treatment, they did a transplant of umbilical cord blood on the woman – the cord blood they gave her was from a donor who had the same genetic mutation as the donor for the cured men. They also did a blood stem cell transplant from the woman’s first-degree relative – they gave her the stem cells to boost her immune system, while the cord blood cells took over her body system. After both transplants, the woman did not stop receiving her antiviral drug medications for the next thirty-seven months until about fourteen months ago, after which she still has been testing negative for HIV.
The researchers are not able to figure out how the cells of the cord blood were able to fight the HIV infection. Meanwhile, they suspect a few factors: first, they believe, is the ability of the cord blood cells to quickly and easily fit into a new environment; second is the fact that the cord blood may constitute stem cells that contributed to the curing process; third is the fact that this study involved a woman who is of mixed race, in contrast to most previous research work about HIV cure that has always involved white men.
The researchers are also of the opinion that for bone marrow transplants, cord blood is easier to get than stem cells, and that the procedure involving cord blood has lesser side effects than that involving stem cells. They made this conclusion with regards to the severe side effects experienced by the men who were cured of HIV – one of which included graft-versus-host disease, where the body attacks itself in reaction to the transplant. It was reported that one of the men almost died after the procedure, while the other lost bodyweight massively, and almost went deaf due to injury to his inner ear. In contrast, the woman they treated suffered only a few side effects.
This treatment procedure, although its mechanism yet to be fully understood by the researchers, has laid the foundation for a better treatment to cure the “uncurable” HIV infection. More in-depth research just needs to be done to fully understand the process, and even improve on it, to lessen or eliminate the side effects.
HIV infection is not uncommon nowadays, as a large number of people across the globe have been tested positive for it. However, with this discovery, the large population of people living with HIV/AIDS can finally, not only get to live normal lives but also be cured of the virus.