FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 11, 2019
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Doctors and health researchers heard last week about a long-awaited advance in the fight against the HIV virus that causes AIDS, a serious disease affecting 37 million people globally. (The initials stand for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) Encouraging treatment results were described at a conference in Seattle and published in the journal Nature. A London man has been in remission (symptom-free recovery) from HIV for 18 months, without drugs, after receiving a bone marrow transplant of virus-resistant cells.
He appears to be the second person cured of HIV infection that way. "While it is too early to say with certainty that our patient is now cured of HIV, and doctors will continue to monitor his condition, the apparent success . . . offers hope in the search for a long-awaited cure for HIV/AIDS," says Dr. Eduardo Olavarria, a blood specialist at Imperial College London involved in the ongoing study.
Modern drug treatments have transformed an infection that was once a death sentence into a condition that can be managed with lifelong medication. The search for a true cure is driven by the need in lower-income countries, where access to drug therapy is often difficult and strains of drug-resistant virus are a bigger problem. Until now, "it wasn't clear this [success] could be reproduced," says Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, a Harvard Medical School professor who also is chief of infectious diseases at a Boston hospital. Another researcher in the field, Timothy Henrich at the University of California-San Francisco, reacts this way: "It's not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be quick. But I think that every year we get a little bit closer to the ultimate goal, and cases like this I hope will continue to excite and inform the community."
Doctor says: "This is really quite significant. It shows the [first] patient was not just a one-off, that this is a rational approach." -- Daniel Kuritzkes, infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston
AIDS crusader says: "These new findings reaffirm our belief that . . . HIV is curable. The hope is that this will eventually lead to a safe, cost-effective and easy strategy to achieve these results." – Anton Pozniak, president of the International AIDS Society in Geneva, Switzerland
Lead researcher says: "Finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly difficult because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host." – Dr. Ravindra Gupta of University College London, who presented his team's study last week