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British man becomes second to receive HIV treatment

by Margaret Stewart - news editor
Thu, Mar 14th 2019 04:00 pm
cure? The recent `cure` found in Britain and Germany has been critiqued for its questionable solutions. The medicine can only treat people with both cancer and HIV. Doctors feel like the medicine is too powerful to treat someone that has not been through chemotherapy. The treatment attacks both the cancer and the HIV in a person.
cure? The recent "cure" found in Britain and Germany has been critiqued for its questionable solutions. The medicine can only treat people with both cancer and HIV. Doctors feel like the medicine is too powerful to treat someone that has not been through chemotherapy. The treatment attacks both the cancer and the HIV in a person.

A potential cure has been found for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

According to fredhutch.org, Timothy Ray Brown was the first patient to be cured of HIV. After being diagnosed in 1995, Brown was taking medication to mediate the disease for over 10 years. Soon after, Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

His doctors decided on an aggressive form of treatment using radiation and chemotherapy in an attempt to wipe his immune system clean, with the plan to rebuild it with donated stem cells. The twist came when they purposefully used a donor who was immune to HIV.

In 2007, after Brown received two stem cell transplants, not only was he in remission for his cancer, Brown became the first person to be in remission for HIV.

While it was a scientific accomplishment, many hesitated to call it a cure. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Gregg Gonsalves a man suffering from AIDS, explained that of this accomplishment is taking away from work that still needs to be done.

“Stem-cell transplants from these rare donors are unlikely to be used for the average HIV-positive patient without cancer,” Gonsalves said. “As researchers and activists, we have to urgently focus on what works, on overcoming barriers to scale up HIV treatment and prevention, which will need both scientific and political solutions.”

According to USA Today, Washington based Dr. Ray Martins agreed with Gonsalves. The aggressive treatment includes targeting stem cells by using chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, steps that doctors are hesitant to perform on an otherwise healthy patient. It is a painful and risky surgery which has potentially dangerous side effects that could last for a long time.

“It's so dangerous,” Martins said. "I wouldn't do that to someone who is healthy with HIV.”

Martins isn’t the only one who thinks the surgery is highly risky. A professor at the University of California, Steven Deeks, says the surgery should only be used to treat patients that have both HIV and cancer.

“This approach is just too, too dangerous for the treatment of HIV by itself,” Deeks said.

According to CNN, a London based cancer patient has recently undergone the surgery and is in remission, causing some scientists to believe he has been cured of HIV.

There has been a third patient based in Dusseldorf, Germany, and since his transplant, hasn’t needed to take his HIV medication for three months. While an accomplishment, doctors are hesitant to call him cured as it hasn’t been enough time to see if the treatment will work long term. A more appropriate term may be “functionally cured.”

According to the San Francisco Aids Foundation’s website, to be functionally cured means that “the person doesn't have to take medications, and there's so little of the virus in their body that they aren't being affected by it and can't infect anyone else. It's not 100 percent clear whether or not this will stay true in the long term.”

While the surgery is still in its experimental phases, Brown believes this treatment is only the beginning.

“I deeply support the science going on, and I feel that I need to be here,” Brown said. “I’m the only patient to be cured of HIV, and I want there to be more.”

Affecting close to 37 million people worldwide, it is too early to say the death sentence that often follows the diagnosis of HIV is at an end.

According to the foundation’s website, a cure has not been found, though they acknowledge the progress being made and the steps in the right direction.

“There is no functional cure for HIV or AIDS,” the foundation stated on their website. “Meaning that there is no procedure or medication which has been scientifically proven to reliably eliminate the virus from a person’s body or reverse the damage to the immune system.”

While the cure isn’t quite there, there is undeniable progress to be made. Like Gonsalves reiterates in his article, there are choices and actions that can be made little by little in order to affect future change.

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