And as with many potential cures, it appears to have been discovered by chance.
The startling case of an AIDS patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia is stirring new hope that gene-therapy strategies on the far edges of AIDS research might someday cure the disease.
The patient, a 42-year-old American living in Berlin, is still recovering from his leukemia therapy, but he appears to have won his battle with AIDS. Doctors have not been able to detect the virus in his blood for more than 600 days, despite his having ceased all conventional AIDS medication. Normally when a patient stops taking AIDS drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days.
The breakthrough appears to be that Dr. [Gero] HÃ¼tter, a soft-spoken hematologist who isn’t an AIDS specialist, deliberately replaced the patient’s bone marrow cells with those from a donor who has a naturally occurring genetic mutation that renders his cells immune to almost all strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
This development is particularly important because current antiretroviral therapies are incredibly costly and the virus eventually mutates and necessitates more powerful drugs with even stronger side effects.
And even though the epidemic has been stemmed somewhat in the United States, developing countries are being hit hard because of a mixture of prevention ignorance and lack of funding to get the drugs necessary to help fight the spread. In fact, 2.7 million new cases were reported last year, and about 2 million people died.
In any event, it looks like gene therapy could usher in a new generation of cures.