Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte. This image has been colored to highlight important features; see PHIL 1197 for original black and white view of this image. Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions. (Photo : C. Goldsmith)
Sometimes two small jumps are better than one big leap. That's the wisdom behind achieving an HIV cure in 2013, as a few outlier cases of cured patients and leveling-off numbers of new infections indicate a sunnier outlook as the world continues to combat the disease.
Multiple reports show that Boston-area doctors Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes have seen HIV-positive bone-marrow transplant patients go into full remission from the virus following the procedure. And even with the patients now off anti-HIV medication for several months, the virus remains undetected in both their systems.
While the doctors at Brigham & Women's Hospital are wary of referring to the bone marrow transplant development as a "cure," they do admit that the early returns are promising.
This isn't the first time doctors have linked successfully fighting HIV to bone marrow transplants. In February 2008, Timothy Brown, now commonly referred as the Berlin Patient, received a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia, only to find himself cured of HIV as an unexpected side effect. Brown's case brought HIV research back to the forefront, and with the Boston team's new discovery, it may intensify a search for a bone marrow cure.
As for the developing world, $200,000 bone marrow transplant surgeries are not an option; here, the biggest threat to patients may be the protectionist interests of the pharmaceutical industry and misinformation that spreads by word of mouth.
In Malawi, an employee of the Malawian Ministry of Health spoke to newspapers about "Garani-MW1," a local herb that can cure HIV and AIDS. Watchdog Africa Check refutes the claim, noting that: "There is no evidence that Garani-MW1 is a cure for anything, let alone HIV and Aids. The substance has not been subject to any independent clinical trials, no data has been published and none of the claimed 'success stories' appear to have been independently documented."
As for HIV itself, its been leveling off globally for the first time ever, in large part thanks to the production of cheap, generic HIV/AIDS medication produced overseas by manufacturers in India, which make 86 percent of the HIV/AIDS medications in the world. With HIV medications on the rise, carriers have lower "viral loads," meaning they're less contagious. Now, according to the Washington Post, the American pharmaceutical industry is pressuring India to ban these drugs arguing they rip off American patents.
Should that happen, HIV/AIDS numbers could start skyrocketing again. Until then, hopefully those numbers continue to drop while we continue to investigate a legitimate cure.