Special Report - An end to AIDS?

Wed Jun 1, 2011 1:52pm GMT
 

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - For his doctors, Timothy Ray Brown was a shot in the dark. An HIV-positive American who was cured by a unique type of bone marrow transplant, the man known as "the Berlin patient" has become an icon of what scientists hope could be the next phase of the AIDS pandemic: its end.

Dramatic scientific advances since HIV was first discovered 30 years ago this week mean the virus is no longer a death sentence. Thanks to tests that detect HIV early, new antiretroviral AIDS drugs that can control the virus for decades, and a range of ways to stop it being spread, 33.3 million people around the world are learning to live with HIV.

People like Vuyiseka Dubula, an HIV-positive AIDS activist and mother in Cape Town, South Africa, can expect relatively normal, full lives. "I'm not thinking about death at all," she says. "I'm taking my treatment and I'm living my life."

Nonetheless, on the 30th birthday of HIV, the global scientific community is setting out with renewed vigour to try to kill it. The drive is partly about science, and partly about money. Treating HIV patients with lifelong courses of sophisticated drugs is becoming unaffordable.

Caring for HIV patients in developing countries alone already costs around $13 billion (7.9 billion pounds) a year and that could treble over the next 20 years.

In tough economic times, the need to find a cure has become even more urgent, says Francoise Barre Sinoussi, who won a Nobel prize for her work in identifying Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). "We have to think about the long term, including a strategy to find a cure," she says. "We have to keep on searching until we find one."

The Berlin patient is proof they could. His case has injected new energy into a field where people for years believed talk of a cure was irresponsible.

THE CURE THAT WORKED   Continued...

<p>A still image provided by KPIX TV and taken from the broadcaster's video footage shows Timothy Ray Brown during an interview at his home in San Francisco. Timothy Ray Brown, was a young HIV-positive American living and working in Berlin who had developed leukaemia and suffered a relapse after initial treatment. In 2007, his German doctor, oncologist and haematologist Gero Huetter, made a radical suggestion: a bone marrow transplant could be performed using cells from a very particular kind of donor -- someone with a rare genetic mutation, known as CCR5 delta 32. Scientists had known for a few years that people with this gene mutation had proved resistant to HIV. Today Brown, who has moved to San Francisco, remains the only living human ever to be cured of the AIDS virus. REUTERS/Courtesy KPIX TV/Handout</p>
 
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