Saturday, August 29, 2009

Exciting News on the HIV Front

Some very exciting and potentially game changing news in the fight to find a cure for HIV/AIDS: a doctor in Germany appears to have cured a man's HIV using a bone marrow transplant designed for Leukimia patients.

The story: an American with both Leukimia and HIV went to Germany to undergo additional treatment after his first round of chemo didn't work. There, Dr. Gero Hutter (who specialized in Leukimia, but not HIV/AIDS) recommended a bone marrow transplant: risky, but maybe the only way the man would survive. Trouble was, the man also had HIV, and his chances of living decades longer weren't much better.

Then Dr. Hutter had an idea. Back in the 90's, it was proven that men with the CRR5 gene mutation were almost entirely immune to the HIV virus, since the CRR5 protein was what allowed the virus to attach itself to the body's cells. And as luck would have it, there was a bone marrow donor in Germany who had that exact mutation; the transplant was approved, and finally carried out.

And 3 years later, after extensive testing and without any anti-viral cocktails, the virus is undetectable in the man's blood, if it's still there at all. For all intents and purposes, the man is "functionally cured".

Now, there are caveats galor to this. It could be a fluke. It could be a different mutation that we haven't identified yet. It could be the intensive radiation therapy that killed off most of the man's immune system before the procedure. And bone marrow transplants aren't exactly simple to perform.

Nevertheless, in this particular case, it seems to have worked, and at the very least it's a promising new lead to follow. Hutter and others are starting to look at different kinds of gene therapy as possible alternatives to marrow transplants, and their research may finally lead to the cure for one of humanity's most perplexing diseases.

Here's hoping.

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