The first man believed to be ‘cured’ of HIV gives hope for the future as he addresses the International AIDS Conference in the US.
Announcing the formation of a new AIDS foundation in his name yesterday (24 July), Timothy Ray Brown told media at the event in Washington that doctors have told him he’s ‘cured of AIDS and will remain cured.’
The so-called ‘Berlin patient’ was apparently cured of the virus after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukemia while in Germany in 2007.
Because his donor had a rare genetic mutation that disables a receptor known as CCR5, which HIV needs to gain entry into immune cells, not only was his cancer put into remission but his HIV-susceptible immune system was replaced with one that could ward off the disease.
Gay men around the world remain a high risk category for HIV infection and Brown’s landmark treatment is exciting researchers and health experts.
Jason Warriner, clinical director at LGBT health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘The experience of the Berlin patient gives us hope for the future.
‘Since the start of the epidemic 30 years ago, our understanding of how the virus works has increased dramatically and has allowed us to develop drugs to manage the condition.’
Warriner added that it is the first time HIV has been eliminated from the body completely.
‘The transplant procedure that Timothy Ray Brown went through was complicated and life-threatening and would only be used in extreme circumstances. It’s not the “cure” we’re looking for.
‘However, it does tell us that eradication of HIV cells is possible and the importance of that can not be under-estimated.
‘Until a functional cure is found, consistent condom use remains the best way to protect yourself and your partners from HIV.’
Bone marrow transplants like the one Brown received aren’t suitable for widespread use, reported the Toronto Star.
The procedure ends in death 20% of the time and finding an appropriate donor would be a long shot in most cases. So scientists are working on alternatives.
Dr Jay Levy, who co-discovered the AIDS virus with Robert Gallo in 1983, claims any real cure could take years to become practical in poorer countries, where 97% of the people with HIV live.
He likened a cure to ‘the four-minute mile — what we need to do is just show it’s possible.’
‘There’s enough creativity out there to find a way of having it applied in all parts of the world,’ he added.