A woman remains free of HIV 5 years after receiving a stem cell transplant, researchers say

a woman remains free of hiv 5 years after receiving a stem cell transplant, researchers say

10-year research shows vital insights for a future HIV cure. Callista Images/Getty Images

  • A woman is still free of HIV 5 years after receiving a stem cell transplant, researchers say.
  • The woman continued to show undetectable viral levels months after stopping her HIV medication.
  • An undetectable HIV viral load prevents transmission, according to the CDC.

A woman who received a stem cell transplant to treat her cancer has also been “cured” of HIV five years after receiving the treatment, and even after stopping her HIV medication, researchers say.

The woman, known as the “New York Patient,” needed a stem cell transplant after doctors diagnosed her with acute leukemia, according to a report published in the scientific journal, Cell. Nearly five years post-transplant, the woman also showed “undetectable HIV RNA levels,” according to the report.

The report comes a month after another group of researchers said a man in Germany was “cured” of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant 10 years earlier to treat his leukemia.

Having an undetectable HIV viral load keeps the disease from affecting a person’s health and “prevents transmission to others through sex or syringe sharing, and from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding,” according to the CDC.

The woman decided to stop taking her HIV medication 30 months after her transplant to see if she could possibly be “cured” of the virus, the report says. Her initial break from the medication lasted only 13 days after a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic forced her back on the medication, according to the researchers.

The report says she then stopped taking the medication again at 37 weeks post-transplant and found that her virus levels had remained undetectable through 18 months, “heralding HIV-1 remission and a possible HIV-1 cure.”

“We’re calling this a possible cure rather than a definitive cure — basically waiting on a longer period of follow up,” Dr. Yvonne Bryson, director of the Los Angeles-Brazil AIDS Consortium at UCLA and one of the doctors who oversaw the case, said during a news conference on Wednesday, according to LifeScience.

Scientists prefer to refer to HIV patients as “in long-term remission” rather than cured because it’s still unclear how permanent the results of long-term HIV remission will be, Insider previously reported.

Deborah Persaud, interim director of pediatric infectious diseases, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and co-lead author of the woman’s case report, told HealthLine that the longer the woman is able to stay cancer free, the more likely it is that her HIV viral load will not return to a point where it is dangerous.

“The longer she goes without rebound the more likely it is that the virus won’t return in her blood to detectable viral load levels with our standard clinical assays,” Persaud said.

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