I am old enough to remember the days when contracting HIV meant a death sentence; the only question was how long the afflicted had to live. Thankfully, things are different now:
Two H.I.V.-infected patients in Boston who had bone-marrow transplants for blood cancers have apparently been virus-free for weeks since their antiretroviral drugs were stopped, researchers at an international AIDS conference announced Wednesday.No, a cure is not right around the corner. But as the story indicates, we are learning more every day about how to fight HIV/AIDS, and the prospect of a cure is not nearly the fantasy that it used to be.
The patients’ success echoes that of Timothy Ray Brown, the famous “Berlin patient,” who has shown no signs of resurgent virus in the five years since he got a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a rare mutation conferring resistance to H.I.V.
The Boston cases, like Mr. Brown’s, are of no practical use to the 34 million people in the world who have H.I.V. but neither blood cancer nor access to premier cancer-treatment hospitals.
But AIDS experts still find the Boston cases exciting because they are another step in the long and so-far-fruitless search for a cure. They offer encouragement to ambitious future projects to genetically re-engineer infected patients’ cells to be infection-resistant. At least two teams are already experimenting with variants on this idea, said Dr. Steven G. Deeks, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a discoverer of the virus that causes AIDS and the president of the International AIDS Society, called the findings about the Boston patients “very interesting and very encouraging.” The announcement about the cases was made at the society’s annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.