A medical report regarding the successful cure (doctors' word) of a 44-year-old man living with HIV is cause for intense interest and even hope — but not necessarily jubilation. Whatever you might hear, there still is no cure for AIDS.—-
The case, reported in the American Society of Hematology's journal Blood, regards Timothy Ray Brown, aka "The Berlin Patient," an HIV patient who underwent a stem-cell transplant to treat leukemia. But the treatment had a bonus effect: Three-and-a-half years after giving up retroviral therapy, Brown's HIV levels remain undetectable, and his CD4-cell count has returned to normal.
That is to say, according to the doctors who authored the report, the "cure of HIV infection has been achieved in this patient."
For those of us who have witnessed our friends, community leaders and loved ones slowly and cruelly succumb to AIDS, that phrase — "cure of HIV infection" — has been, for decades, an undreamt-of holy grail.
But, however encouraging it may be, the report does not promise a new era of wholly effective treatments for HIV sufferers today.
The procedure itself was brutal: Brown had his entire immune system wiped out with chemotherapy and radiation — twice — before receiving bone-marrow transplants from a donor who not only happened to be a good match, but also had a relatively rare genetic mutation making the donor cells resistant to the HIV virus.
It was expensive, painful and very, very risky.
Still, hearing that phrase: "cure of HIV infection has been achieved in this patient" makes me happy. It makes me feel that, one day, medical science will provide a real cure for HIV — replacing the ongoing regimens of high-priced antivirals that have been such a bonanza for pharmaceutical companies.
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