Today, University of Minnesota physicians will perform the world’s first cord blood transplant designed specifically to cure a pediatric patient of HIV/AIDS and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The procedure will take place at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and will be completed by a clinical team composed of transplant physicians Michael Verneris, M.D. and John Wagner, M.D., of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and HIV/AIDS infectious disease specialist Timothy Schacker, M.D.
The breakthrough nature of the case stems from the use of cord blood (the blood extracted from the placenta after a baby is born) that contains 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, ultimately protecting against the destruction of the host’s immune system.
“What we’re attempting is a first and potentially landmark case for the HIV/AIDS community,” said Wagner, an internationally recognized stem cell transplant expert and pioneer in cord blood transplantation at the University of Minnesota. “This now offers patients with HIV and leukemia or lymphoma new hope. But even more importantly, this should compel cord blood banks worldwide to identify how many cord blood units with CCR5Δ32 exist within the inventory. We also hope this case prompts others to find novel ways to block or alter CCR5 to mimic this protective variant.”