(ORDO NEWS) — The method used is rather specific, and it is unclear whether it can be replicated en masse. Researchers hope that they will be able to treat fifty people a year this way.
The human immunodeficiency virus is a normally incurable disease. This happens because it specializes in reproducing inside the cells of the immune system, which usually fights the virus. As a result, the body does not have the means to fight the pathogen.
There is a small number of native Europeans (about 1% of their number) who practically do not become infected with HIV – due to the fact that, due to a rare mutation in this 1%, it cannot attach to their cells.
But if a person does not have this mutation and he becomes infected, he will not be cured normally: he will have to take medicines all his life that reduce the number of virus units in the blood to values when AIDS does not develop.
The HIV virus (highlighted in green is separated from a previously HIV-infected cell of the human immune system). The original image of the electron microscope was black and white, colors added for clarity / © Wikimedia Commons
But occasionally the situation can be reversed. First, two people recovered from HIV spontaneously, without medication. How exactly is still not clear, but doctors suspect that they have some unusual mutations.
Secondly, in three cases, people who were not treated for it at all got rid of HIV. They had leukemia (when the body has a deficiency of leukocytes, white blood cells), and in order to overcome it, doctors transplanted bone marrow stem cells into patients, which are responsible for the production of white blood cells.
The stem cell donors were people with a mutation of one of the receptors on the surface of human cells – CCR5-Δ32. It is she who protects 1% of native Europeans from HIV infection. Leukocytes are part of the immune system, and, apparently, being unable to hit them, HIV disappeared from the human body.
Human blood cells under a microscope. “Shaggy” are leukocytes, with a hollow in the center – erythrocytes. / ©Wikimedia Commons
Now American doctors have announced a fourth case of a cure for the virus. This time we are talking about an American woman who received not only a bone marrow stem cell transplant, but also cord blood from a donor with a similar mutation.
Cord blood, as you might guess, remains in the placenta and cord vein after the baby is born. It contains stem cells, and the selection for donor compatibility in the case of cord blood is less strict than when choosing another source of stem cells: the risk of rejection in the case of cord blood is lower.
The operation itself to transplant stem cells from an adult donor (as well as cord blood transfusion) was carried out back in 2017.
However, doctors first waited for the signs of leukemia to disappear (with a deficiency of leukocytes, it is dangerous to stop taking HIV-suppressing drugs). They then stopped their anti-HIV therapy and waited 14 months to make sure the virus didn’t start replicating. Only now they are more or less sure of the complete cure of the woman.
It should be noted that the method of treatment using both stem cells and umbilical cord blood is rather complicated, requires the search for donors and involves a complex operation. So don’t expect it to be massive. One of the doctors behind the cure notes that in the United States, even in the future, about 50 people a year will use such therapy.
In theory, it is possible to organize a cure for HIV with the help of stem cells for people without leukemia. But such a process can be massive only after we learn how to stably reproduce stem cells with the necessary parameters, from which science is still very far away.
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