07 June 2011

First Person Cured of HIV

Did you realize that 30 million people have died from HIV in the 30 years since the disease was discovered? Or that the disease spreads at the rate of 7,000 people per day globally? Pretty staggering statistics that seem to get fewer headlines than the latest celebrity scandal.
In the 90s anti-retroviral drugs were developed that transformed the disease from quickly lethal to more manageable, and the illness could be lived with for decades. But treatment is very expensive, and unrealistic for millions of people who have the disease.

But amidst all the discouraging news is a surprising and heartening story–that of the first man to be functionally cured of HIV. Timothy Ray Brown had both acute myeloid leukemia and HIV. As the leukemia spread through his bone marrow, he was forced to undergo chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant. When the disease flared up again, he required another stem cell transplant.

What was unusual about the transplant donor is that he was immune to HIV. (Scientists say 1 percent of Caucasians are immune to HIV, some theorize that  the trait may be passed down from ancestors who became immune to the plague centuries ago; or that the trait was passed down from people who became immune to a smallpox-like disease.) Although the transplant was to treat the leukemia, an incredible thing happened. His HIV went away.

“He has no replicating virus and he isn’t taking any medication. And he will now probably never have any problems with HIV,” his doctor Gero Huetter told Reuters.

Although Brown’s story is amazing, scientists say that bone marrow transplants can be fatal, and it’s impossible for Brown’s treatment to be used for everyone in the world living with HIV. However, the discovery does encourage “cure research,” according to experts, something that many people never believed would be possible…

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