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An American research team has announced that for the first time a woman appears to have been cured of HIV following a transplant of umbilical cord blood stem cells.1 The “New York patient,” as the woman is referred to by researchers, is now the third person to be apparently cured of the previously incurable virus through a stem cell transplant.

As with the previous two cases, the New York patient had a medical need for a stem cell transplant due to a cancer diagnosis.2,3 All three patients received stem cells from donors who possessed a rare HIV-resistant genetic variant.

The stem cell transplants followed chemotherapy treatments to kill off both the patients’ cancer cells and their immune systems. This enabled a replacement of the patients’ immune systems with stem cells from cord blood with an HIV-resistant variant, thus the virus can no longer infect the cells in their bodies.

Why this story is important: Dr. Jaime Shamonki, Chief Medical Officer of CBR, explains it all

A scientific first

What makes the New York patient’s case especially exciting to researchers is the fact that her remission came about as the result of using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood and not from bone marrow alone.

The bone marrow transplants that were used to treat the first two patients produced serious side effects, including graft versus host disease (GvHD), a condition in which the donor cells attack the recipient’s body.

The New York patient did not develop GvHD following her 2017 cord blood transplant. She walked out of the hospital seventeen days after the transplant, healthy and seemingly on the road to recovery from both leukemia and HIV. Her remission continues to this day without the need for HIV antiretroviral treatments.

Cord blood offers unique advantages

Stem cells derived from cord blood are an amazing biological resource. While it can be used in much the same way as bone marrow for treating certain inherited disorders and cancers, it also demonstrates several unique qualities that distinguish it from bone marrow.

For example, cord blood transplants are less likely to cause GvHD4. Additionally, in many instances cord blood cells do not require a perfect genetic match in the way bone marrow cells do. They are much more “immune-tolerant”.5

The importance of being immune tolerant is critical in the case of the New York patient. As a person of mixed-ethnicity, the likelihood of finding an acceptable bone marrow match from a donor with the HIV-resistant genetic variant – usually found in people of Northern European ancestry – is unlikely.6

Fortunately, a partial match from an HIV-resistant cord blood donor supplemented with stem cells from a relative’s bone marrow was enough to transfer immunity to the New York patient. Using a “bridge dose” of stem cells from a family member is sometimes done in the transplant setting to allow the cord blood to engraft more rapidly.7

The success of the New York patient’s umbilical cord blood transplant offers new hope that it may be possible to cure HIV in people of varying racial backgrounds who have a medical need for a stem cell transplant. It’s important to note the use of cord blood transplants to cure HIV isn’t likely to become commonplace in the future as only patients with a preexisting medical need for a stem cell transplant would be candidates for this treatment.

The takeaway for expectant parents

Cord blood is already approved for transplant treatment of over 80 conditions, including various cancers, blood, immune, and metabolic disorders.8 And, it appears that number will continue to grow as medical researchers work to find new and exciting uses for cord blood stem cells.

Parents only have one chance to store their newborn baby’s cord blood and cord tissue. It’s an important opportunity to potentially protect your family’s future health that shouldn’t be missed.

Most families who have used their cord blood didn’t know at the time they stored it with Cells for Life that they would be using it one day. Though this story is about a stem cell transplant, 60% of the Cells for Life families who have used their cord blood samples have done so as part of an experimental regenerative medicine treatment.9 As new therapies emerge, the possibilities for how Cells for Life families use their samples should continue to grow.

Whether you’re planning to or have already preserved your child’s newborn stem cells, it’s reassuring to know that researchers, medical professionals, and Insception scientists are working together to strive for a healthier future for families everywhere. Share this blog with friends or family who are expecting. Refer them to Cells for Life through our website. And, if you’re expecting, be sure to sign up today.

References:

1. Steenhuysen, Julie. “First woman reported cured of HIV after stem cell transplant.” Reuters. 15 Feb 2022. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/first-woman-reported-cured-hiv-after-bone-marrow-transplant-2022-02-15/. 2. Gupta, Ravindra K. et al. “Evidence for HIV-1 cure after CCR5Δ32/Δ32 allogeneic haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation 30 months post analytical treatment interruption: a case report.” The Lancet. HIV 7 (2020): e340 – e347. 3. Allers K, Hütter G, Hofmann J, Loddenkemper C, Rieger K, Thiel E, Schneider T. Evidence for the cure of HIV infection by CCR5Δ32/Δ32 stem cell transplantation. Blood. 2011 Mar 10;117(10):2791-9. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-09-309591. Epub 2010 Dec 8. PMID: 21148083. 4. Rocha V, Gluckman E; Eurocord and European Blood and Marrow Transplant Group. Clinical Use of umbilical cord blood hematopoietic stem cells. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2006 Jan;12(1 Suppl 1):34-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2005.09.006 5. Laughlin MJ, Eapen M, Rubinstein P, Wagner JE, Zhang MJ, Champlin RE, Stevens C, Barker JN, Gale RP, Lazarus HM, Marks DI, van Rood JJ, Scaradavou A, Horowitz MM. Outcomes after transplantation of cord blood or bone marrow from unrelated donors in adults with leukemia. N Engl J Med. 2004 Nov 25;351(22):2265-75. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa041276. PMID: 15564543. 6. Ryan, Benjamin. “New York patient becomes the first woman to possibly be cured of HIV.” Yahoo News. 16 Feb 2022. https://news.yahoo.com/scientists-possibly-cured-hiv-woman-172209264.html. 7. Kwon, M. et al. 2013 BBMT 19(1): 143-149. (publication & newsletter) Single Cord Blood Combined with HLA-Mismatched Third Party Donor Cells: Comparable Results to Matched Unrelated Donor Transplantation in High-Risk Patients with Hematologic Disorders. 8. Hao Q, Shah AJ, Thiemann FT, et al. A functional comparison of CD34 + CD38- cells in cord blood and bone marrow. Blood. 1995;86:3745-3753. 9. Internal source: data on file

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