Two people are now in long term remission for HIV. The two men who have gone by the name, “Berlin patient,” have both been cured of HIV, years apart.
The second man has been HIV negative for 18 months, while the first man has been for more than a decade. Both of these men had more than just HIV in common; they also both had cancer.
Timothy Ray Brown, “Berlin patient” number one, was the first person to ever be cured of HIV/AIDS.
Some people are born with a mutation in their DNA, and this mutation can fight off HIV. This mutation is what helped to save both of their lives. Both men who have been cured were nearing the end of their life, as their cancer had progressed into its final stages.
Both of these men received a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant.
In both cases, the bone marrow being transplanted has been from individuals with the specific DNA that is capable of fighting off HIV. For both, this transplant has been effective in saving their lives.
“The likelihood of getting a matched donor, in minorities especially, is very low because we don’t have as many minorities that are on the stem cell transplant donor list. These are two individual cases that had similar transplants with a specific gene formation that seems to have an anti-HIV component,” said Dr. Ruth Chaplen, the interim director of the nursing program.
It is a common thought that due to the immense pressure and stress that a stem cell transplant puts one’s body through, this way of fighting HIV may not be the best.
Many individuals with this disease are able to fight HIV with what is known as an, “HIV Drug Cocktail,” which is multiple medicines used together in an attempt to stop the replication of AIDS within the body.
Around the world, many doctors are attempting to find the cure for HIV/AIDS. Recently in China, a doctor by the name of He Jiankui has genetically modified babies using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR.
By using this technique, Dr. Jiankui has created children with the mutated genome capable of fighting off HIV. The father of these two children is HIV positive.
This type of genetic modification has received much backlash, as many people do not believe that modifying a human’s genes is ethical or safe–especially when this type of modification is actually a mutation.
Though there has been much advancement in the fight against HIV/AIDS since it was first discovered, many believe there is still much to be learned before a cure can be identified.
“I would be very cautious about thinking we have an HIV cure when the only two patients that have been recorded to be in remission are those that have received complete bone-marrow transplants,” said Dr. Eric Calhoun, the assistant professor of Biology. “These donors happened to contain mutations in the receptor that HIV uses to infect cells and is only present in a very small percentage of the population.”
STDs can seem very daunting, especially on a college campus. “Barrier protection is the most important [way to prevent STDs],” said Dr. Chaplen. “Birth control provides absolutely no protection against STDs and, in fact, people may acquire STDs at a higher rate because they’re not using protection if they’re on birth control.”
There are more ways than just using contraceptives to help fight off STDS, though. “Getting the HPV vaccine [is helpful]. HPV is associated with not only cervical cancer, but also head and neck cancers. It is also associated with people that smoke. They’re recommending it to both boys and girls now.”
Due to these cases many people believe that the cure to AIDS is just on the horizon. Others, though, feel as though there is more work to be done.
“I wouldn’t call it a cure for HIV because right now we’re not doing transplants for HIV. These are transplants for cancers. It’s possible that they can test blood and look for this CCR5 genotype and possibly do transplants with those people, but I don’t know how plentiful they are in the environment. It’s certainly not something they’re ready to do,” said Dr. Chaplen.