Tuesday, June 7, 2011
1 man's success revives hope of curing AIDS, 30 years after first cases appeared in the US
Sunday marks 30 years since the first AIDS cases were reported in the United States. And this anniversary brings fresh hope for something many had come to think was impossible: finding a cure.
The example is Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco, the first person in the world apparently cured of AIDS. His treatment isn't practical for wide use, but there are encouraging signs that other approaches might someday lead to a cure, or at least allow some people to control HIV without needing medication every day.
"I want to pull out all the stops to go for it," though cure is still a very difficult goal, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
For now, the focus remains on preventing new infections. With recent progress on novel ways to do that and a partially effective vaccine, "we're starting to get the feel that we can really get our arms around this pandemic," Fauci said.
Nearly 30 million people have died of AIDS since the first five cases were recognized in Los Angeles in 1981.
About 34 million people have HIV now, including more than 1 million in the United States.
About 2 million people die of the disease each year, mostly in poor countries that lack treatment. In the U.S. though, newly diagnosed patients have a life expectancy only a few months shorter than people without HIV. Modern drugs are much easier to take, and many patients get by on a single pill a day.
But it wasn't that way in 1995, when Brown, an American working as a translator in Berlin, learned he had HIV. He went on and off medicines because of side effects but was holding his own until 2006, when he was diagnosed with leukemia, a problem unrelated to HIV. Chemotherapy left him so sick he had to be put into a coma to allow his body to recover.
"They didn't know if I'd survive that," Brown said.
Now 45, Brown needs no medicines, and his only health problems are from the mugging he suffered two years ago as he returned home one night in Berlin. Brown was knocked unconscious, required brain surgery and therapy to walk and talk again, and doesn't have full use of one arm. He moved back to the United States in December.
"He's now four years off his antiretroviral therapy and we have no evidence of HIV in any tissue or blood that we have tested," even places where the virus can lie dormant for many years, Huetter said.