In a phenomenal medical case, Timothy Brown, a 42 year old, HIV positive male patient, diagnosed with Leukemia, was recently found to be free of the HIV virus after he successfully underwent a stem cell transplant. An article in the Journal Blood states that the stem cell donor carried a gene mutation that allows essential resistance to the AIDS causing virus.
A team of doctors headed by Dr. Gero Hutter performed the transplant to treat the patient of leukaemia and not HIV, two years ago in Charite Universitatsmediz in Berlin, Germany. The patient, Timothy Brown is an American who is residing in Germany and is reportedly doing fine with no signs of HIV.
The transplant was undertaken after considerable research. The team decided on a donor who had a gene mutation blocking HIV functioning. The mutation is specific to the receptor CCR5 which is found on the surface of T cells, the ones affected by the actions of HIV on the human body. The mutation termed CCR5 delta 32 is rare, manifesting in about 1-3 % in white European populations.
How does the Mutation Affect HIV
Although the HIV virus uses the CD4 receptors to target the T cells, it cannot act with full impact in the absence of the CCR5 receptor. Hence the mutation is a natural form of protection for these individuals from HIV viral infection. Individuals with one copy of the CCR5 delta 32 are less likely to be affected by the HIV virus and those with two copies (a part from each parent) have almost no chances of being HIV positive. The stem cell donor had two copies of CCR5 delta 32.
Can this discovery lead to regular Treatment?
Scientists and researchers, though excited about this discovery remain skeptical that this knowledge can lead to any form of regular treatment or vaccine. For instance, Dr. Jay Levy of University of California, San Francisco feels that this cannot be a regular form of treatment as stem cell transplant procedures are extremely critical and many patients succumb to this method. It involves deliberate destruction of the immune system of an individual and then establishing a healthy immune system from bone marrow or blood, all of which is pretty involved and comes with significant risks.
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