In a startling medical breakthrough, German doctors “strongly suggest that a cure of HIV infection has been achieved” in a man who received a stem cell transplant for leukemia back in 2007.
Timothy Ray Brown, also referred to as “The Berlin Patient,” underwent a complicated treatment for leukemia in 2007 that involved receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a rare inherited gene mutation. The gene is associated with a reduced risk of HIV and is found in only one to three per cent of white Europeans.
Brown’s doctors presented their tentative findings at the 2008 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections and later presented a more detailed case study in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2009—but only now have they published a follow up report in the journal Blood, saying it looks like Brown has been cured.
If the cure withstands more scientific scrutiny, it could provide a path toward more general treatment and the end of AIDS as an epidemic through the use of genetically engineered stem cells. No one is saying that a comprehensive cure is imminent, however.
The German magazine Stern interviewed Dr. Gero Hütter, who was in charge of Timothy Brown’s case. “… for me it is important to have overthrown the dogma that HIV can never be cured,” said Dr. Hütter. “Something like this is the greatest thing one can achieve in medical research.”
Dr. Michael Saag, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and past chairman of the HIV Medicine Association, told the Associated Press that the treatment undergone by Brown is far too risky for general use. Unless someone with HIV also had cancer, a transplant would not likely be considered, he said. “It's an interesting proof-of-concept that with pretty extraordinary measures, a patient could be cured of HIV,” Saag told AP.
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