(AP/The Blaze) An estimated 33 million people are living with the HIV/AIDS virus in the world today, but doctors believe one of them may now be free of the illness after receiving a stem cell transplant in 2007.
Doctors say the very unusual blood cell transplant appears to have cured the American man living in Berlin of infection with the AIDS virus. However, they warn people not to get their hopes up, because this approach is too risky and impractical to be used widely.
Timothy Ray Brown was undergoing chemotherapy to treat leukemia when he had the stem cell treatment. The blood cell donor had a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to HIV. A report in the journal Blood says that three years later, he shows no sign of cancer or HIV.
Blood cell transplants are done now for cancer. Five percent or more of the recipients can die from them. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been studying HIV/AIDS for nearly 30 years and cautions that this stem cell treatment may give research a new direction, but is very impractical at this stage in medical advances:
“It’s hard enough to get a good compatible match for a transplant like this,” Fauci told FoxNews.com, “But you also have to find compatible donor that has this genetic defect, and this defect is only found in 1 percent of the Caucasian population and zero percent of the black population. This is very rare.”
Fauci said while this patient is “functionally cured” this is not something you can do with every HIV-infected individual.“This is not prime time to me at all,” he said. “This is a very unusual situation that has little practical application for a simple reason. This donor not only had to be a good compatible match, but the donor had to have a genetic defect of cells that do not express the receptor that the HIV virus needs to enter the cell.”
Doctors say the procedure is not something for healthy people, especially because drugs keep HIV in check for most patients.