On April 23, 2013, University of Minnesota physician-scientists performed the first cord blood transplant in the United States designed specifically to cure a child with HIV/AIDS, as well as a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that is particularly resistant to chemotherapy alone.
This new treatment was based on the fact that the transplanted cord blood, known to be highly effective in curing leukemia, contained a variant of the cell surface protein CCR5 – known as CCR5Δ32. Present in less than one percent of the population, CCR5Δ32 prevents most strains of the HIV virus from entering a patient’s T cells, thereby preventing the destruction of the person’s immune system.
The announcement that such a transplant had occurred this past April led to considerable interest from public as well as the HIV community. While the patient’s initial course was remarkably uneventful, in early June he developed a severe complication, called graft-versus-host disease, which occurs when the immune cells of the donor attack various tissues of the body. While he had a partial response to its treatment initially, the patient died on Friday, July 5, 2013.