Is This the End of HIV?

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Abigail Quinn, Contributor

On March 11 this year, the second person in history was cured of HIV via a stem cell transplant. HIV is caused by contact with the infected bodily fluids of another person and has been incurable until recently.

Symptoms of HIV include flu-like sickness such as fever, chills, rash, sore throat and muscle aches but may escalate to symptoms like rapid weight loss, extreme and unexplained tiredness, memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders according to HIV.gov. The world-wide epidemic of HIV/AIDS began in 1981 and cases skyrocketed since then. “Today, there are more than 1.1 million people living with HIV and more than 700,000 people with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic,” says The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, but that is all about to change for the better.

The first case cured of HIV was in 2007 of a man named Timothy Ray Brown, who then was referred to as the “Berlin patient”. He received his diagnosis in the 1990s and was quick to ensure he received the proper anti-retroviral treatment that was the usual course of action for an HIV infection. Following his initial diagnosis, he also contracted acute myeloid leukemia for which he would eventually require a stem cell transplant. The possibility for an overall more effective treatment then occurred to the doctors that were treating him.

As Maria Cohut, Ph.D., put it in her article about the case in Medical News Today, Doctors began looking for a specific type of donor for the stem cell transplant. “He looked for a specific genetic mutation that made them practically immune to HIV.” She continues on to say, “Receiving stem cells from this donor, it turned out, not only treated Mr.Brown’s leukemia, but also cured the HIV infection.”

Now with the second reported case of curing HIV in the same manner as Mr.Brown hitting the press, this option is a breakthrough for medical professionals and anyone suffering with the terrible disease. “Our findings show that the success of stem cell transplantation as a cure for HIV, first reported nine years ago in the Berlin patient, can be replicated.” says prof. Ravindra Kumar Gupta, the study’s lead author from the university of Cambridge in the UK in Medical News Today.

However, the procedure is still used only for life-threatening cases and is extremely risky in nature. Prof. Gupta continues, “Therefore, this is not a treatment that would be offered widely to patients with HIV who are on successful anti-retroviral treatment,” he goes on to caution. With these findings, more researchers involved express a hope that possibly in the future, “Scientists may be able to use state-of-the-art gene editing tools as part of interventions meant to treat and cure HIV.”

For now, we will take the silver lining and run with it in hopes that one day this terrible disease will be gone for good.