How A Berlin Man Became “Cured” Of HIV

6 Jun

Robert Johnson| Jun. 6, 2011, 10:54 AM

Timothy Ray Brown was already burdened with HIV and leukemia, when he received a stem cell bone marrow transplant in 2007.

The bone marrow donation came from a man immune to HIV, a condition enjoyed by only one percent of Caucasians in the world, according to a report by CBS.

Following the transplant, Brown’s HIV was gone.

“I quit taking my HIV medication the day that I got the transplant and haven’t had to take any since,” said Brown.

There are various theories surrounding where this immunity, actually a genetic mutation, originates. Because of the connection to Northern Europe, it’s possible the gene originated with the Scandinavians and traveled south with Viking raiders.

Perhaps it’s not so important who brought the mutation, but what it is they lacked. According to this story in Wired, those who can’t get infected by HIV are lacking the so-called CCR5 receptor. If this cellular device isn’t present, the AIDS virus has no way of breaking into the cell and taking over.

Researchers have known this for some time, but Brown’s stem cell therapy is the first instance where a certain combination of events developed to wipe out an HIV infection, and it gives many reason to hope.

Although HIV treatment allows people to live manageable, extended lives, the cost of the drugs can be prohibitive: $13 billion a year and expected to triple by 2020. Unable to afford the medicine, many go without treatment.

Scientists have been quick to point out that the transplant case encourages cure research, but it would be impossible to perform the potentially fatal procedure on the world’s 33 million HIV patients.

In the meantime Brown, 45, is the first person ever to be “functionally cured” of HIV.

“I’m cured of HIV. I had HIV but I don’t anymore,” he said, using words that many in the scientific community are cautiously clinging to.

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