Hope for an HIV-free generation
Five years after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukemia, Timothy Ray Brown still believes the transplant is also responsible for curing him of HIV. This summer, he announced that he has been off antiretroviral drugs since the transplant, and believes the disease has been fully eradicated. His surprise cure was triggered by a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a mutation that makes cells immune to HIV.
Brown’s cure is not one other AIDS patients would try – the procedure basically wipes out and restores the immune system and has a high risk of death. But researchers around the world are now investigating anti-retroviral pills that could target the “memory cells” of the immune system, thereby curing patients in a similar way to which Brown was cured.
Meanwhile, current anti-retroviral therapies continue to progress to the point where they’re able to suppress the HIV virus almost entirely. This is why doctors now refer to AIDS as a “chronic condition” that needs to be managed, rather than a progressive disease that will inevitably lead to death. While 1.7 million people a year still die of HIV, the phrase “HIV-free generation” has now become plausible.