I was planning to get back to blogging only after Christmas, what with all the activities going on here, but this was too important to postpone. When very tight for time like now (when I have turned on the computer today for the first time in 3 days!), there are only 2 or 3 blogs I visit. Andi Eicher's is one of them. And as I scrolled down through what I had missed over the last few days, I saw this link to an article in Blood, which reports the first documented case of a patient being cured of HIV. Yes, you read that right!! Of course, you may have read that in your local newspaper, but being a reader of our paper from the first letter to the last, I am sure, this has not yet been reported in ours. And having been out of an academic setting for some time, I obviously missed this when the initial study was reported last year. This article tells in greater detail the story of Timothy Ray Brown, a 44 year old American living in Germany, who was known as the 'Berlin patient' till he came forward with his story recently.
Diagnosed to have acute myeloid leukemia while living with HIV, he was given a bone marrow transplant as treatment for the leukemia. But the doctors gave him an added bonus. They found a donor whose blood had a defect in the gene which encodes the CCR5 receptor on the CD4 cell, which is responsible for the entry of HIV into the cell. People with this genetic defect have been know to be resistant to HIV. After the first transplant, the doctors stopped his anti-retroviral treatment. Thirteen months later he had a relapse of his leukemia and required another transplant. Now, 3 and a half years after his first treatment, his CD4 counts have returned to normal and HIV is undetectable in his plasma and blood cells. As Andi noted, this may not be the Nobel-Prize winning cure for HIV, primarily because, there are so many factors that fell into place for Mr. Brown, which may be difficult to replicate in other patients. What is more, the prohibitive costs of all the treatment Mr. Brown went through mean that even if replicatable, this will probably be available only to a small percentage of people living with HIV. But even so, it is a great step forward, reason to celebrate and surely a reason to dash off a post, however tired I may be!!