In a potential breakthrough in the fight against AIDS, doctors in Germany say an HIV-positive patient who underwent a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia is both cancer-free and cured of his HIV infection. Researchers caution that this doesn't mean a cure will be widely available any time soon, but the news raises hopes that genetically engineered stem cells could be used to permanently rid people of the infection. How important is this finding in the fight against HIV/AIDS? (Watch a discussion about the breakthrough)
Do not get your hopes up: This is "exciting news," say Elizabeth Landau and Miriam Falco at CNN.com, "but not likely to cure the global AIDS pandemic." Bone marrow transplants like the one that Timothy Ray Brown, a 44-year-old American living in Berlin, had in 2007 are extremely dangerous — as many as a third of patients don't survive them. His case should be seen as a tentative reason for optimism — but "the disease could still be lurking" within his body.
"Why HIV advance is not a universal cure"
The path to the cure is getting clearer: The key to ridding this patient of HIV, says Matthew Ross in Gather, was in the source of the stem cells. The doctors found a donor with a genetic mutation that caused him "to lack the certain cells which act as 'docking stations' for HIV." This suggests that "an actual cure for HIV" might come from suppressing these particular cells — "either through transplants or gene therapy." Not soon, but some day.
"First HIV-positive man cured with immune stem cell treatment"
This is not the only recent breakthrough: Taken alone, this news might not offer much hope to the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide, says Carolyn Castiglia in Strollerderby. But it comes on heels of another breakthrough — a recent study found that healthy people who take antiretrovirals commonly prescribed to treat HIV can dramatically reduce their risk of infection. "Collectively, these announcements prove that the scientific and medical communities are making huge progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS."
"Scientists believe they have found a cure for HIV"