Currently, there are approximately 33 million people worldwide living with HIV. However, doctors now believe they have cured a man after he received a stem cell transplant in 2007.
Timothy Ray Brown, 44, now with the nickname of the “Berlin patient”, is an HIV-positive American living in Germany. He also suffered from leukemia and was undergoing chemotherapy when he received a transplant of stem cells from a donor. During this transplant Brown inherited a rare, gene mutation that seems to make carriers immune to HIV infection.
According to doctors who affirmed the cure in the journal Blood, the transplant appeared to wipe out both diseases. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been studying HIV for almost 30 years, said that although this is an interesting concept, it seems impractical.
“It’s hard enough to get a good compatible match for a transplant like this,” Fauci told Fox News. “But you also have to find a compatible donor that has this genetic defect, and this defect is only found in one percent of the Caucasian population and zero percent of the black population. This is very rare.”
Although the news of the cure brings hope to many people infected with HIV, Fauci concludes that this procedure cannot be done with every HIV-infected individual. People must also keep in mind that this transplant is very costly.
Fauci commented that this is a very unusual situation with little practical application because the donor also would have to have a genetic defect of cells that do not express the receptor that the HIV virus needs to enter the cell.
Brown still has to continue his journey to recovery and must take immunosuppressant drugs now to prevent the rejection of his transplant cells.
Dr. Thomas Quinn, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, told Fox News that he is very familiar with the “Berlin patient” case.
“This was a new report that looked much deeper into whether HIV could still be present or lurking in the body in some way, not cured, and since the transplant he remains virus-free and his cells appear to be resistant to infection,” he said.
Brown has become the miracle patient whose “HIV remained undetectable by both viral load testing (RNA) and tests for viral DNA within cells, and HIV antibody levels declined to the point that the patient has no antibody reactivity to HIV core antibodies, and only very low levels of antibodies to the HIV envelope proteins”, reports AIDSMAP.
Does this mean HIV can be cured? Doctors have mixed feelings on the impact of the discovery, but it may give hope to millions of people worldwide.