Is a “Functional Cure” for AIDS a Realistic Possibility?

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New developments in HIV research suggest that Timothy Brown may not be the only man “cured” of AIDS.

There have been many articles on the internet and in medical journals about Timothy Brown, the man from Seattle, who was “cured” of AIDS in Berlin 5 years ago. While this man is still AIDS free, there have been many failed attempts in other test subjects. We all know about the advances in stem cell research and the effects they have on certain types of cancers and other ailments, but is it possible that curing AIDS might possibly be another way of using these cells?

Mr. Brown was suffering from AIDS when he developed Leukemia and underwent a series of treatments including chemotherapy and radiation. Nothing seemed to be working, and the leukemia was coming back with a vengeance. Running out of options and enduring a great deal of pain, he underwent a stem cell transplant from a bone marrow donor. This donor was among a small percentage of the world’s population that is “immune” to AIDS, meaning he lacked CCR5, a receptor that resides on the surface of immune-system cells that the virus uses to enter the cells. He discontinued his use of AIDS medications after the transplant. Testing a few months following treatment showed no evidence of viral antibodies or cancer cells. Five years later, he is both leukemia and AIDS free, with no immediate signs of either disease returning.

This case has inspired more scientists to review what they know about AIDS and HIV to build upon this fascinating research. There are now two more cases of AIDS patients in Boston who are also “cured”, although their cases are a little different. They both also had AIDS, developed cancer, and received the same treatments, including bone marrow transplants. This is where their cases differ: their bone marrow donors were not lacking the CCR5 receptor. These two patients remained on AIDS medication during and after their transplants, and less than one year after each procedure, the virus has not been detected in either man. Each of them will soon stop taking antiviral drugs but will be monitored regularly to see if the virus returns. So far, researchers, doctors, and patients are highly optimistic.

Bone-marrow transplants are risky and expensive and cannot be performed on everyone. Significantly more research and testing need to be done to refine this procedure and to find new ways of getting similar results with a less dangerous treatment. Still, aside from the skepticism, this is evidence that scientists are on the right track toward ultimately curing the disease and possibly creating an effective vaccine for the disease even sooner.

 

Written By: Jenna McClure
Source: NPR.org

Photo Credit: faslooff at Stockfreeimages.com

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