Stem cells prepared for transplant: image via sandiegonewsnet.org Timothy Ray Brown has become the first person to be cured of AIDS, an event so unlikely to happen that the word "cure" is not even in the vocabularies of scientists in the fields of HIV/AIDS. This is not a hoax. Even HIV experts acknowledge that Brown has been cured, not only of AIDS, but of the leukemia he acquired as a result of the disease.
The cure was the result of a bone marrow stem cell transplant that Brown had while living in Germany in 2007. The cells came from a very unusual donor, one of the one percent of all Caucasians who carry a gene that is naturally immune to HIV. Scientists believe this is the same gene that enabled some to survive the Great Plague.
Surviving the transplant surgery for someone weakened to a such an extent by the disease was no small feat, but once the new cells were medically manipulated and established in Brown's bone marrow, the HIV was soon history. As Brown says, "I had HIV, but I don't anymore."
As for the leukemia, Brown needed a second stem cell transplant before that deadly blood disease was cured, but he has not had any signs of it since that transplant in 2008.
Now living in San Francisco, Brown is being followed by University of California San Francisco (UCSF) doctors Jay Levy, co-discoverer of the HIV virus, and Paul Volberding, also a pioneer in AIDS research. They both caution that Brown's success cannot be generalized because of the difficulty in matching a patient with a donor and because the transplant procedures are so difficult to perform.
Also, Volberding told CBS news in San Francisco, "You don’t want to go out and get a bone marrow transplant because transplants
themselves carry a real risk of mortality."
Nevertheless, based on Brown's case, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is now funding stem cell research in the Bay area that will replicate the procedures used for Brown's surgery with the goal of bringing the same success to others with HIV.
Let's wish them great success! Trials are scheduled to begin next year.
CBS San Francisco