Man cured of AIDS

June 24, 2011

by Naomi Allison, NEWS EDITOR

With more than 30 million people infected worldwide, I always envisioned AIDS as an epidemic that could never be defeated, except through abstinence and advances in scientific research.

However, when my keen eyes swept across MSNBC’s article, “Marrow transplant may have cured man’s AIDS,” I was in a state of complete shock. According to the article, Timothy Ray Brown, a 45-year-old man who had struggled with HIV for several years, was cured of AIDS after undergoing an extensive treatment for leukemia in Berlin. His treatment consisted of a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was believed to carry two copies of CCR5, a gene immune to the HIV virus.

As I continued to read, I was inclined to learn more about the CCR5 gene. The CCR5 gene creates a code for proteins that act as a “receptor” outside white blood cells. Essentially, it acts as a lock. If this receptor isn’t present, the HIV virus cannot break into the blood cell, meaning it cannot start infection that eventually leads to AIDS.

Many scientists believe those who have one copy of the CCR5 gene have a greater resistance against HIV, but not 100 percent immunity from the disease. Total immunity seems to be the case for about 10 to 15 percent of people descended from Northern Europeans.

Some scientists feel the gene is really a mutation that arose in the Middle Ages, while experts suggest it spread in response to the Black Plague or smallpox.

In the case of Brown, scientists believe his stem cell donor likely had two copies of the gene, a rare coincidence.

Gero Huetter, Brown’s doctor, clearly explained that although the bone marrow treatment was successful, it didn’t mean the cure to AIDS was discovered.

“The therapy has such a high mortality rate that it can’t be justified ethically, other than in this special situation, where the patient has to have a transplant due to another illness,” he said. “I say this, in order to reduce false hopes.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S., also said the procedure was too risky to employ as a firstline cure. But he said it could inspire researchers to pursue gene therapy as a means to block or suppress HIV.

“It helps prove the concept that if somehow you can block the expression of CCR5, maybe by gene therapy, you might be able to inhibit the ability of the virus to replicate,” he said.

This makes me question, “Is there really a cure for AIDS?”

It seems as though every groundbreaking discovery is marred by chaos and despair; I can’t help wonder if there are darker purposes. After all, companies and even doctors stand to make more money from creating or administering medicines to hinder the effects of HIV and AIDS, rather than to cure it completely.

Reading this article and watching YouTube videos of Aids victims, has changed my perspective on life.

Many people assume that they will never contract the HIV virus or have full-blown AIDS.

It reminds me of the saying, “You don’t know what you have until its gone.”

The reality is that anyone can have AIDS.

You have to be careful, because AIDS is unpredictable. It doesn’t care about race, age, sexuality or gender.

You can be born with it, contract it from excessive drug use, or contract it while having an intimate relationship with one partner or multiple partners.

This article has made me come to a huge realization. My body is a temple, and when I do decide to have sex after marriage, I’m going to make sure my partner is tested.


Naomi Allison is a junior journalism and Spanish major from Westlake who serves as news editor for The Tech Talk. Email comments to nsa008@latech.edu.