Explained: How umbilical cord blood was used to cure an HIV patient

What is the News?

A US patient has become the third person in the world, and the first woman, to be cured of HIV, the deadly virus that causes AIDS.

What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is an infection that attacks the immune system by destroying the body’s immune cells called CD4, which help it respond to infection. 

Once HIV attacks the CD4 cells, it starts replicating and destroying the cells, weakening the body’s immune system and making it more prone to certain “opportunistic infections” that take advantage of the weak immune system.

How is HIV transmitted?

Bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breastmilk can be carriers for HIV. 

It can also be transmitted through unprotected sex, transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing needles and syringes, and from a mother with HIV to her infant during pregnancy.

How was the woman cured of HIV?

In 2013, a woman from the US was diagnosed with HIV. She began to receive antiretroviral drugs to keep her virus levels low. 

Four years later, she was diagnosed with leukaemia. As part of her cancer treatment, she received a transplant of umbilical cord blood from someone who had a natural resistance to HIV. Since then, she has not required antiretroviral therapy.

Note: The earlier two patients who were cured of HIV received transplants from donors who have an uncommon gene that gives them protection against HIV.

Why is this news significant?

First, this was the first time an umbilical cord blood transplant was successfully carried out on an HIV patient. Doctors have indicated that this approach is likely to make treatment more widely available.

Second, the patient was a middle-aged mixed-race woman. This is significant since the majority of donors in the US are of Caucasian descent. Since this breakthrough treatment only requires partial matches and not exact matches, it opens up treatment options for people from diverse racial backgrounds.

Source: This post is based on the article Explained: How umbilical cord blood was used to cure an HIV patientpublished in Indian Express on 24th February 2022.

Print Friendly and PDF