July 17, 2013
The 12-year-old boy who had received an umbilical cord blood transplant earlier this year in an attempt to cure him of his HIV and leukemia died from a severe complication on July 5, his doctors announced.
The boy, Eric Blue, received the transplant in late April at the University of Minnesota. He had reportedly been doing well until June, when he developed graft-versus-host disease, a complication in which the donor's immune cells attack the tissues of the host's body.
"He was incredibly brave and courageous, and understood he was participating in something historic," said Dr. Michael Verneris, a transplant specialist at the university, who treated Blue. [...]
While not yet conclusive, tissue and blood tests obtained through Blue's treatment have shown an absence of HIV, even after his medications were discontinued, Verneris said.
"There was no sign of leukemia either for that matter," he said. "Things were looking quite bright. Of course, that makes it even more bittersweet in some ways ... that he was almost there."
"This patient absolutely needed to have this transplant," Verneris added. "And if he hadn't developed a very common side effect of bone marrow transplant and died from it, we were hopeful this was all going to work well."
Had the boy lived, he would have joined a small-but-growing list of people who have been cured of HIV.
Recently, two HIV-infected men who had received bone marrow transplants to treat their cancer were found to have no signs of HIV in their blood several weeks after stopping treatment.
In addition, a German man who had started treatment within a month of infection was recently revealed to still have an undetectable viral load (below 1 copy/mL) nine years after discontinuing treatment.
Despite Blue's death, his doctors hope to continue to better understand and develop this new approach of using cord blood transplants to treat HIV-infected patients.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.