HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is one of the diseases that are difficult to cure. In fact, most of the managements of HIV are more on supportive care rather than curative because of the absence of a definite treatment for the disease.
The mortality rate of HIV is high especially when AIDS sets in because of the grave reduction in the immune system of the patient. However, a recent advancement in medical technology has successfully treated the first HIV patient in the person of Timothy Brown and the treatment regimen employed was stem cell transplantation. The stem cells used for the successful treatment of his HIV were derived from an HIV genetically-resistant individual. In line with this, doctors now hope on the possible success of HIV treatment using stem cells from cord blood.
Timothy Brown was tested for HIV in 1995 while studying in Berlin. Brown responded well to various treatments, but it was not until 2006 when he was diagnosed of leukemia of AML type. The doctors who are following the case of Brown proposed to use chemotherapy to reduce the immune system more that will allow doctors to rebuild the immune system through bone marrow transplantation.
While looking for an appropriate donor, doctors came across a patient with a genetic mutation in the form of delta 32. This gene disables the CCR5 receptors on the cells responsible for the immune system. The CCR5 receptors are actually the receptor sites that human immunodeficiency virus uses in order to attach, replicate and infect the tissues of a susceptible host. Those who carry the gene mutation have disabled CCR5 receptor, which means that they are immune to HIV.
The presence of delta 32 mutation is rare and only 1% of the European population has the mutation. Furthermore, other races such as Asian, African and South American has lesser percentages of population with the gene.
Since doctors kept an eye on donors with the gene mutation, they examined 232 potential donors to make sure the match will have the gene. The physicians performed the bone marrow transplant using stem cells from the donor. After the treatment, the patient went into remission of leukemia, meaning that there were no signs and symptoms of leukemia for quite some time. The most groundbreaking result of the transplant was the patient had already no trace of HIV in his tissues and cells. However, the patient still required another transplant for leukemia, but never required other treatments for HIV.
Following the transplantation, the patient still verbalized that the procedure was not perfect because he suffered balance and speech problems. Nevertheless, the patient said that he was relieved by the fact that he will no longer fight with HIV.
Despite the treatment using bone marrow transplant using stem cells, the procedure is generally difficult to perform as finding a perfect match for transplantation is difficult and finding one that has the gene mutation is even more difficult. The use of the treatment is also not feasible for every patient with HIV.
Because of this limitation, doctors found the use of cord blood as more beneficial because using cord blood does not require an exact match. Using cord blood brings about more leeway for matching donors so there are significantly more people who can benefit from the transplantation.
Two patients have already received similar procedure as what Brown undergone, but this time with the use of stem cells from cord blood with the gene mutation to address HIV. There are still no results regarding the success of the treatment, but doctors are remaining optimistic about the results.