A San Francisco man may be the first person to be “cured” of AIDS due to an HIV immunity gene.
According to San Francisco CBS affiliate KCBS, Timothy Ray Brown, who tested positive in 1995, may be the first man in history to have the deadly disease completely removed from his body due to a “functional cure.”
Brown received a bone marrow stem cell transplant in Berlin, Germany back in 2007 after battling HIV and Leukemia. The donor appears to have carried a gene which made them immune to HIV, an immunity which may have been passed to Brown. Since the transplant, Brown has stopped using his HIV medication.
“I’m cured of HIV. I had HIV but I don’t anymore,” Brown told the news station.
Dr. Jay Levy at the University of California, San Francisco, who helped discover the HIV virus, said Brown’s case is significant for HIV/AIDS research.
“If you’re able to take the white cells from someone and manipulate them so they’re no longer infected, or infectable—no longer infectable by HIV—and those white cells become the whole immune system of that individual, you’ve got essentially a functional cure,” Levy said.
Phill Wilson, the founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles, said Brown may not be the first person who has been “cured,” a word he called “complex and interesting.”
“Technically, a cure means we can eradicate the virus from an HIV-positive person's body. I don't think we are close to finding that,” he said in an e-mail. “I do think we are close to the day when people are more likely to die with HIV than from HIV. I think we have the tools to stop new infection, and slow down disease progression dramatically.”
Even though Wilson is “skeptical” about Brown’s case, he said there have been significant scientific breakthroughs, specifically in HIV testing and screening.
“The HIV tests today are more accurate, easy, painless, cheap, and fast—you can get the results back in less than an hour. Soon you might be able to get the results back in less than a minute,” Wilson said.
Wilson said education is the most important way to combat the HIV/AIDS, especially in the African-American community.
“Black people have not benefited nearly as much from past scientific breakthroughs as other racial, ethnic groups chiefly because we have not utilized new programs, and/or technology often because of a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment,” he said.
“When people truly understand the science of AIDS they are more able to protect themselves and their partners, more willing to find out their HIV status, more likely to seek treatment, and better able to adhere to the medications—education is key.”
As a result of Brown’s progress, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine has funded stem cell research in the Bay Area to attempt to duplicate the success for more people who live with HIV, according to KCBS. Clinical trials are expected to start as soon as next year.