The medical first was achieved by an extreme route. Brown had received chemotherapy for the blood cancer, leukaemia, but his treatment had failed. The only remaining option was a bone marrow transplant.
In the procedure the patient’s own immune system is ruthlessly suppressed by drugs. The bone marrow then reproduces the immune system of the donor in the recipient.
This is what happened in Browns case, with the added twist that the donor was one of the 1% of Caucasians that are naturally immune to HIV. The bone barrow transplant was a success, and Browns ‘new’ immune system defeated the virus.
Although this is not a practical way of curing HIV for everybody, not least due to the risks and the expense, it does open a window to researchers in the field. Hitherto it was thought that residual infected cells would remain in inaccessible body tissues, like the brain. Browns case shows that it is possible to completely rid the body of HIV infection. Two years after the transplant a biopsy of Browns brain showed no HIV.
What is needed now is a clever way to attack these residual infected cells. Given the vast range of knowledge now known about HIV, and the large number of effective strategies at suppressing the virus, I hope it is now just a matter of time before a practical cure is found.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) for men in Manchester
- Telephone and online counselling for men wherever you live
- Supervision and consultative support for therapists in Manchester
- Mediation for employment disputes in Manchester and the UK
- Group therapy weekends for men in London and Manchester