A cure for HIV infection is now a very realistic possibility, according to an increasing number of voices in the scientific community.
Chief among them is Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the Nobel Prize-winning virologist who was one of the first scientists to identify the HIV virus. Speaking recently to BBC News, Professor Barré-Sinoussi reiterated her belief that a cure for the virus could be found in the future.
“The reason why we are talking about a cure today is because we have some evidence that it might be possible.”
Citing the case of the ‘Berlin Patient’, a man named Timothy Brown who has been free of HIV for the past five years following a series of bone marrow transplants in 2007, she considers him to hold the key for future treatment.
“It turns out today, that after two bone marrow transplants, we can say we cannot detect the virus anymore in his body… It is a proof of concept somehow that we did not have before.”
Professor Barré-Sinoussi remained steadfast in her belief of a potential cure, despite its difficulties, in a community of medical researchers that had until recently, given up the idea of eradicating the virus.
“The reason why we are pushing for a cure is the fact that we know it is a life-long treatment. We know that it is of course very difficult for universal access, for treatment for all.”
At the time of Mr Brown’s initial treatment, many HIV experts were sceptical of the impact and believed that it did not represent a potential cure for all patients.
Jason Warriner, Clinical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said of Mr Brown’s case this week: “The experience of the Berlin patient gives us hope for the future. Since the start of the epidemic 30 years ago, our understanding of how the virus works has increased dramatically, and has allowed us to develop drugs to manage the condition. However, this was the first time we’ve seen a medical process eliminate HIV from the body completely.
“The transplant procedure that Timothy Ray Brown went through was complicated and life-threatening, and would only be used in extreme circumstances. It’s not the ‘cure’ we’re looking for. However, it does tell us that eradication of HIV cells is possible, and the importance of that can not be under-estimated. Until a functional cure is found, consistent condom use remains the best way to protect yourself and your partners from HIV.”
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