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Pediatric patient dies after undergoing historic transplant at U of M

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.

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What is a cord blood transplant?

Cord blood transplant bag

A cord blood transplant is prepared for delivery to the patient at the University of Minnesota.

Cord blood transplants can do amazing things for people with very difficult diseases. But it’s important to remember that cord blood transplantation is a potentially life-saving but highly risky procedure, and is only used to treat the sickest patients, including one recently here at the University of Minnesota diagnosed with both HIV and leukemia.

A cord blood transplant does complex work inside the body, and preparation and recovery is hard work for both the patient and the doctor.

So it might be surprising to know that despite such a transplant being one of modern medicine’s most amazing treatments, the procedure itself is quite simple when compared to major surgery like a joint replacement or solid organ transplant.

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