Timothy Brown, an American living in Berlin, was given stem-cell therapy and chemotherapy in 2007 to treat leukemia, a condition that developed after he was infected with the AIDS virus.I don't think anyone thought that HIV could never be cured. This particular treatment isn't going to be the cure although it might lead to new treatment paths. The doctors had essentially killed the patients existing immune system and rebooted it with the bone marrow transplant and stem cell treatment, but that's not a feasible method of curing the disease as it is dangerous, tremendously costly and time consuming.
Three years later, doctors believe the 42-year-old has been cured of both cancer and HIV.
"Our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient," wrote study author Kristina Allers in this month's issue of the medical journal Blood.
Doctors say they treated Brown with stem cells and bone marrow from a healthy individual with a genetic predisposition to resist HIV.
Doctors believe Brown is the first person ever to be cured of HIV and say the treatment could pave the way for a new approach in fighting the virus.
The treatment was not without side effects. Brown developed neurological problems that caused temporary blindness and memory problems as well as difficulty with coordination and speech.
Dr. Gero Hutter, the lead doctor overseeing Brown's treatment, told the German magazine Stern his team has "overthrown the dogma that HIV can never be cured".
Doctors, including noted AIDS research Anthony Fauci, say that this particular treatment is costly and dangerous, but that it could lead to other treatment paths. Moreover, the patient is now trading one set of expensive medications for another equally expensive and dangerous set of medications - retrovirals are replaced by immuno-suppressants to prevent rejection of the donated tissues.
Headlines blaring a possible cure here are overselling the circumstances of the treatment. Headlines touting the stem cell treatment aspect are likewise overselling the nature of the treatment. It gives false hope to millions living with the disease.