Why One Man’s HIV Victory Is Another Man’s Hope

Only one person in the history of mankind has been cured of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Timothy Ray Brown, aka the “Berlin patient,” obtained otherwise relatively normal treatments that suspiciously cured the life-threatening infection 100 percent.

Now, a recent experiment conducted on monkeys offers proof that a strange genetic mutation in the individual who gave bone marrow for Brown (who also had cancer) could be a reason for his cure.

Dr. Guido Silvestri, a pathologist at Emory University, gave an identical treatment that Brown was administered to a trio of monkeys to discover which part in Brown’s cancer therapy might have helped rid him of HIV.

The researchers realized that radiation exterminated the majority of the monkeys’ immune and blood cells, which included almost all of their CD4-T cells. This could indicate that radiation may have been a crucial step in treating Brown by exterminating nearly all of his HIV reservoirs.

The researchers also discovered that the transplant led to the production of HIV-absent cells in only a few weeks, implying that the bone-marrow transplant was a success in the animals.

That being said, once the treatment ended, the monkeys’ levels of HIV quickly came back in two of them.

The lucky monkey (who unfortunately wasn’t so lucky– it was euthanized after later incurring kidney failure), had a bit of HIV in some of its tissues after it died, which would indicate that none of the monkeys had been completely “cured” of HIV, admitted the study, which was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

These conclusions do back the notion that radiation alone isn’t enough to exterminate all HIV reservoirs, the researchers admitted, instead suggesting that the Berlin patient’s bone-marrow donor (who had a genetic mutation) may have played a pivotal role in his full healing.

The Berlin patient’s treatment methods were attempted in two other HIV patients who likewise had lymphoma, which is a cancer in the lymph nodes. That being said, the bone-marrow donors from those two cases failed to have the strange mutation in the CCR5 gene deemed unique to the Berlin patient’s case. Those patients first seemed to have no more traces of HIV, but the virus soon came back in just a few months. Ultimately, the patients needed to begin taking antiretroviral medication once more. Studying the Berlin patient’s case might open the door to finding a treatment that could work for masses of people. 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Horia Varlan

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