By Franceseca Donovan
A patient appears to have been cured of infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
It’s been nearly 12 years to the day since the only other patient in history was cured of HIV, a feat scientists have been trying to replicate for over a decade since in the battle to end the AIDS epidemic.
The surprising success of the second example of a patient being cured of the infection now confirms a cure for HIV is possible, researchers said. But the road ahead is difficult.
The scientists responsible for this milestone are describing the case as a ‘long-term remission’. They will publishrd their report on the patient Tuesday 5, March, and presented some of the details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle.
Meanwhile, experts are interpreting their success as a cure – even if the semantics are difficult to define with only two known successful cases.
Incredibly, both medical milestones were the result of bone-marrow transplants, which were given to infected patients to treat cancer, not HIV.
It’s a happy accident which could change lives – and already has for two people.
But bone-marrow transplantation is not a likely or realistic treatment option for HIV just yet, as transplants are extremely risky and come with side effects which can last for years.
All the while, powerful drugs are now available to control HIV infection. Experts think, however, rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist the infection might work.
So, what of the patient and the possible side effects of this discovery?
The latest individual to be ‘cured’ – who has been referred to as only ‘The London patient’ – has chosen to remain anonymous.
But they spoke to The New York Times via email about this life-changing news.
They said: “I feel a sense of responsibility to help the doctors understand how it happened so they can develop the science. I never thought that there would be a cure during my lifetime.”
But, he added, learning he could be cured of both cancer and HIV infection was ‘surreal’ and ‘overwhelming’.
Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, said she hopes it will inspire a generation of doctors to keep striving for what was previously believe to be impossible.
She concluded by saying this ‘will inspire people ‘ to believe the ‘cure is not a dream’ but is, in fact, ‘reachable’.