SEATTLE (KPIX 5) — Researchers say they’ve made a huge breakthrough with treating HIV – the virus responsible for causing AIDS.
At an HIV conference in Seattle Tuesday, doctors announced they’ve cured someone once infected with HIV using a stem cell transplant. It is the second such case after the so-called “Berlin Patient” – a San Francisco resident Timothy Brown who is the first known HIV patient to be free of the virus following treatment in Germany.
The second patient – identified only as the London patient – had cancer, received a stem cell transplant from a donor with the same HIV-resistant protein mutation, and now that second patient also HIV-free.
Tuesday’s announcement about another patient being cured is giving hope to those impacted by the disease.
“We’ve got a strong possibility for a cure,” says Jeff Sheehy who is a board member at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which funds research for gene therapy.
Sheehy has also been living with HIV for more than 20 years.
“I was diagnosed March 1st in 1997. I thought we were all going to die. I never imagined a cure until Timothy Brown,” says Sheehy.
Brown was the first person doctors cured 12 years ago. He had cancer and needed a stem cell transplant. Brown’s donor had a mutation that made cells immune to HIV. After the transplant, the virus couldn’t enter Brown’s cells either – meaning he was HIV-free.
“I knew I was the only person cured of HIV at that point, and I didn’t want to be the only person,” says Brown.
Sheehy says a stem cell transplant isn’t the answer for every patient infected with the virus, but learning to re-create that HIV-resistant mutation could be.
“All we have to do is use gene therapy to target that mutation. We have a clear path that we can go down to really bring this epidemic to an end,” says Sheehy.
It could take scientists 10-20 years before they’re able to fully develop the necessary gene therapy technology for a widespread cure, so prevention is still key.
Wednesday, researchers at that same conference in Seattle are expected to present a third patient who is also HIV-free after a similar stem cell transplant due to cancer. They aren’t saying the patient is cured yet because the patient has only been off anti-viral medications for a few months.