By Sabahat Rahman, Communications Editor
For decades, researchers have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS. They may now be closer than ever.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system, specifically by targeting its T-cells, a crucial part of the human immune system. Over time, so many of these T-cells are destroyed so that the body cannot resist infection and disease. Once HIV has caused serious damage to a patient’s immune system, the patient reaches a condition known as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). At this point, diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia sweep into the body, meet little to no resistance from the HIV-weakened immune system, and rapidly kill the patient.
HIV/AIDS has puzzled scientists for decades. In the 1980s, the virus first broke out in the United States and soon escalated to a global issue. As of 2017, nearly thirty-seven million people worldwide were diagnosed with the disease. However, researchers have not been able to find a vaccine or cure as the virus is complex and baffling. Although modern drugs have certainly allowed for death rates to decrease drastically from the time when HIV/AIDS first evolved, and patients are now able to live relatively normal lives, a vaccination could prevent the onslaught of HIV/AIDS, and a cure would enable diagnosed patients to completely destroy the virus in their system.
So far, there have only been two instances in which HIV/AIDS was cured. Timothy Ray Brown, known as the “Berlin patient,” was diagnosed with both HIV and cancer. Upon receiving his cancer treatment in 2007, he was also miraculously cured of HIV. Scientists could not entirely understand the phenomenon, but they were able to use the incident to spur further research. They discovered that using a combination of drugs rather than a single one could be more effective in fighting the virus. A specific cure or a vaccine, however, was still out of reach.
Just last month, though, a sudden and revolutionary breakthrough emerged. Early in March, the “London patient” became the second person ever to be totally cured of HIV/AIDS. Interestingly, similar to Brown, the London patient’s cancer treatment also cured him of the HIV virus. In both cases, after a bone marrow transplant, HIV cells were essentially eliminated from the body.
What does this mean? Researchers have asserted that the procedure by which these two men were cured is by no means simple or straightforward, and it does not present a certain solution. For instance, transplants are risky and expensive, and there is still much need to conduct research and trials to ensure that the treatment of these two men can be possible for anyone.
Since the 1980s, HIV/AIDS has spread fear around the globe — from inciting protests in the U.S. to killing famous cultural icons like Freddie Mercury, the virus has proven to be both deadly and seemingly unstoppable. Now, the possibility of a cure has boosted the morale of researchers, patients, and ordinary people like myself worldwide to find one.