BERLIN (CBS4) -In AIDS research labs at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and around the globe a report in the journal, Blood, became the source of medical buzz on Wednesday.
German doctors say their “Berlin Patient”, an American with HIV and leukemia, underwent a stem cell transplant in 2007 and, to this day, appears to have been cured of both illnesses. Not so fast caution other medical experts. Dr. Margaret Fischl is a world renowned AIDS researcher at the Miller School. She told CBS4’s Michael Williams, “I think it is a very important discovery because it tells us if we could get rid of every single cell that is infected with HIV in the body we could potentially cure HIV. Is this patient cured? I’m going to say no.”
Why the caution? The American patient received a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that naturally protects against the R-5 strain of the HIV virus, which is the most common strain. But the HIV patient also has the X-4 strain of the HIV virus and Dr. Fischl said, you cannot assume that all of those HIV infected cells are gone for good.
Moreover, the radical treatment was just that–radical. Dr. Fischl argued, “Would I do this to a healthy patient? Never, because giving intensive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, as this patient went through, and the transplant as well (means) there is a 30 percent chance of dying from that.”
Broward House works with HIV/AIDS patients and the message Wednesday is that AIDS remains a killer. South Florida has one of the highest rates of new infections in the nation, and activists say safe sex—condoms and common sense–must prevail. Broward House spokesman Terry DeCarlo said, “People have been coming left and right all day long (saying), it is here, the cure, the cure, the cure and I keeps saying it is not here yet.”
He is right but the “Berlin Patient” does offer new avenues for promising HIV/AIDS vaccine and gene therapy research. Dr. Fischl said, “With gene therapy maybe 60 percent of the (infected) cells will be replaced and taken over by gene therapy. Is that good enough? That is the question that is going to be asked.”
No cure yet, but hope that HIV/AIDS research will continue to make big strides in that direction.