“The Berlin patient” is the first man in history to be cured from HIV through a revolutionary therapy.
Now the woman who discovered the virus believes that his story could give hope to millions of people.
Scientists that are studying HIV believe that we should no longer see AIDS as an incurable disease and an efficient treatment will soon become available.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, one of the scientists who received the Nobel prize for discovering HIV has joined this team of researchers for the cure for AIDS.
The researcher who discovered HIV in 1983 took “the Berlin patient,” an American gay man called Timothy Brown, as an example. Brown received a bone marrow transplant in 2007 while a student in Germany.
The transplant was initially meant to cure a type of blood cancer but in the process it managed to cure Brown’s HIV infection as well. Five years later, Brown has given up his HIV treatment as he is cured of the disease.
AIDS has long been viewed as an incurable disease. The virus can hide from the immune system for years after it is installed in the DNA due to its ability to integrate itself within the genetic material of infected patients.
Now Professor Barré-Sinoussi and her colleague Professor Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco, support the research for finding a cure for the disease, arguing that scientists should focus on ways of curing or stopping the development of the virus rather than working on better anti-viral drugs and HIV vaccines.
“It may not be necessary to completely eradicate the virus in the individual, however. In about 1 per cent of people infected with HIV, the virus is natural controlled, such that their risks of disease progression and transmission are minimal,” say Professor Barré-Sinoussi and Professor Deeks.
Until now, scientists have based their studies on people with strong immune systems that have the capacity to kill the virus without the need for anti-viral drugs. These people could help in discovering new methods for controlling the virus.
Among them are people who carry natural mutations in a gene called CCR5. About one in 100 people have such mutations that prevent HIV from infecting the white blood cells.
It was this kind of person who gave Brown the bone marrow that cured him.
However, some scientists still believe that Brown isn’t cured since low levels of HIV “viraemia” were found in his body.
“We cannot declare ‘cured’ a man who still has low levels of viraemia, low levels of anti-HIV antibodies not detectable by commercially available tests,” Dr Alain Lafeuillade, head of infectious diseases at the General Hospital in Toulon, France, has said.
However, even if Brown will continue to live without the help of anti-virals, the method by which he was cured can’t be applied in the case of other patients.
Besides being extremely expensive and difficult, a bone marrow transplant is also very risky.
Following a second such procedure that was meant to treat a relapse of his blood cancer, Brown suffers chronic neurological problems.