Scientists may really have stumbled across a cure to HIV, according to a report published in the medical journal Nature earlier this week. The report covered the latest case of Timothy Ray Brown, suffering from both blood cancer and HIV, received a bone-marrow transplant for the treatment of the former disease, and ended up going into remission for both; he has been off antiretroviral drugs for over a year now.
An HIV-positive man in Britain has become the second known adult worldwide to be cleared of the virus that causes AIDS after he received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor, his doctors said. | @CBCNews https://t.co/8IhkIXaELG
— CBC (@CBC) March 5, 2019
The unnamed patient is simply referred to as the “London patient.” His apparent cure — what researchers are calling long-term remission — is only the second time that this is happened in history, with the first time occurring over ten years ago to man referred to as the “Berlin patient.” “I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime,” said the London patient in an email to the New York Times. He expressed feeling a sense of responsibility to further scientists’ search for a cure.
The purported cure occurs when a patient receives a bone-marrow transplant from a donor who carries a mutated version of the CCR5 protein, a mutation that prevents the HIV from attaching to certain immune cells. The mutation typically occurs in donors of Northern European descent. The transplant allowed HIV-resistant immune cells to propagate and eventually replace the patient’s non-mutated immune cells—hence, the patients’ bodies became seemingly impervious to HIV. Until the London patient, scientists had been unsuccessful in their previous attempts to replicate the Berlin patient’s cure, which was purely an accident.
While the findings are a breakthrough for medical science, scientists are still reluctant to call this a cure, as only two patients so far have been able to live HIV-free without having to continue their antiretroviral treatment. There are currently about three dozen cancer patients who are being closely monitored to confirm that bone-marrow transplants will also treat their HIV. Though the prospect of being HIV-free without having to continue conventional treatment sounds nothing short of miraculous for patients living with the virus, the bone-marrow transplant would only be limited to patients who also had blood cancer. “If you’re well, the risk of having a bone-marrow transplant is far greater than the risk of staying on tablets every day,” said one of the researchers. Side effects from bone-marrow transplants can be debilitating and even fatal.
Knowing your #HIV status is powerful information! HIV testing can help you and the people you care about stay healthy. Take time this month to encourage someone to take an HIV test. #DoingIt pic.twitter.com/C4jPvXOsS4
— CDC HIV/AIDS (@CDC_HIVAIDS) February 22, 2019
Currently in the United States, HIV could be described as a disease of medical neglect. Americans without access or the means to access health care experience the highest rates of new diagnoses and infection; the rates are highest in impoverished communities, which means that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the disease. They have the highest rate of HIV infection and highest proportion of new diagnoses, compared to other demographics, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A majority of African-Americans who received a new HIV diagnosis in 2017 were gay or bisexual men. The most effective way to address HIV and AIDS is to ensure that communities have the funds to support prevention, education, and early treatment of the virus.