'Terrific news': Woman is 3rd person to be cured of HIV

The patient in the newest report is described as a middle-aged, mixed-race, American woman.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's the research that the nonprofit Philadelphia Fight has been pulling for: a cure for HIV.

The organization is involved in HIV research, so the report that a third person had been cured of HIV comes as welcome news.

"It's really terrific news," said Jane Shull, CEO of Philadelphia Fight. "This is really encouraging and I think people are really excited to hear it."

The patient in the newest report is described as a middle-aged, mixed-race, American woman. The two previous patients were men, but all three patients had Leukemia, which can develop in HIV patients.

"To cure the blood cancer, they actually will replace the patient's bone marrow," said Dr. Jody Borgman, who is director of the Immunodeficiency Center at Einstein Medical Center.

"What they did was specifically look for a bone marrow replacement that had certain cells that HIV wasn't able to infect," said Borgman, who added that the bone marrow transplant is a dangerous and potentially deadly procedure. It's s only performed on an HIV patient if they have cancer or need a transplant as part of their treatment.

"In general, finding bone marrow matches for patients is very difficult," he said.

The difference in the latest case is that, instead of bone marrow, doctors used stem cells from a donated umbilical cord. Like the bone marrow used in the experimental treatments to cure HIV, those stem cells had a very rare mutation that was resistant to HIV.

"It's much easier to obtain umbilical cord blood which does not have to be extensively matched than it is to get bone marrow from a perfectly-matched donor," said Dr. Billie Swiggard.

Swiggard is a staff physician Mazzoni Center, a nonprofit that provides services for members of the LGBTQ+ community including access to HIV and AIDS treatment.

Swiggard said the new findings are encouraging, but they're not a widespread cure for the millions of people living with HIV.

"It's probably directly applicable to maybe 50 American cases per year," she said.

Those numbers are not good enough considering the number of people living with HIV in Philadelphia, alone.

The 6ABC Data Journalism Team found there are 18,621 people living with diagnosed cases of HIV in Philadelphia. African Americans make up about 64% of patients.

"Being able to offer hope to those populations is extremely important," said Shull.

Instead of focusing on the latest study, doctors say HIV patients should focus on treatments like PrEP, which are highly effective.

"Most patients can be managed with a single tablet taken once a day," said Swiggard.

"It can be given as an injection that will stay in the body for several months," said Borgman.

Those treatments make it possible to live a full life with HIV as researchers continue to work for a cure.

"I think this gives people hope," said Shull.
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