Wednesday, March 9, 2011

News in HIV Treatment Research

From the March issue of the CT HIV/AIDS Planning Consortium News and Notes:

An HIV positive American living in Berlin has been cured from HIV. Reportedly, he has no detectable HIV in his blood after a stem cell transplant he underwent in 2007 to treat leukemia. The transplant was from a donor who carried a gene mutation that has a natural resistance to the virus.

It was by sheer coincidence that the “Berlin Patient” (as he has come to be known) was cured from HIV. The medical team deliberately chose a compatible donor who has a naturally occurring gene mutation that is resistant to the virus that causes AIDS. This type of mutation (known as CCR5delta32) is only found in between 1-3 percent of white poulations of European descendants. The people that have these wonderful genes have a natural protection to HIV.

Unfortunately, this treatment will not be able to help most people infected with HIV. Stem cell transplants are too dangerous and extreme to be used routinely, as many people die using stem cell transplants. The case of the “Berlin Patient”, however, paves a path for constructing a permanent cure for HIV through genetically-engineered stem cells.

I've heard this issue come up a few times at HIV counseling and testing sessions with our clients. While this is promising, it's a LONG ways away from a cure. The best we can do for now is to protect ourselves from HIV by choosing safer sex to prevent HIV infections and prevent the spread of this disease, to avoid contact with blood, and to avoid sharing needles with anyone else.

Stay safe!

--Jamie

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