Writing in Blood, a group says that a 2007 adult stem cell transplant cured a patient of both his HIV and his leukemia. Up to 33 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS.
How did it work and what does it mean? It was a perfect storm of good fortune for the patient so it's an interesting medical starting point but not really a cure-all just yet. Timothy Brown, an HIV-positive man in Germany, also had leukemia and was undergoing chemotherapy but he got a bone marrow transplant from a donor who carried an inherited CCR5 gene mutation that seems to make carriers immune to HIV.
It was a risky move but it worked and the adult stem cell procedure worked - Brown has been without the leukemia or the HIV since, the new analysis shows. It's the first case of HIV being cured, even if the circumstances are difficult to replicate because a donor not only has to be compatible, they have to have the mutation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is kind of a wet blanket about it regardless. “This patient is trading one poison for another. He may not have to be on antiretroviral drugs anymore, but he has to take immunosuppressant drugs now to prevent the rejection of his transplant cells. Again, what this is, is an interesting proof of concept, but it’s absolutely impractical,” he told Fox News.
Well, much of science is impractical in the beginning. As is much of technology in general. The entire idea of basic research is that impractical ideas lead to breakthroughs which lead to test cases and proof of concept and then applications. It seems odd that the person representing epidemiology for the US is telling people not to be happy someone got cured of HIV, since that is why the government has spent billions on research.
Citation: Kristina Allers, Gero Hütter, Jörg Hofmann, Christoph Loddenkemper, Kathrin Rieger, Eckhard Thiel, and Thomas Schneider, 'Evidence for the cure of HIV infection by CCR532/32 stem cell transplantation', Blood First Edition Paper, prepublished online December 8, 2010 DOI 10.1182/blood-2010-09-309591
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