Friday, November 14, 2008

HIV Cure?

I hate headlines that end in question marks, as they can usually more accurately be written with a “no” in front and a period at the end. Still, this case is pretty curious and potentially exciting. A 42-year-old American living in Berlin who was HIV positive and had leukemia has apparently been cured of both diseases after receiving a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor. About one in a thousand Westerners have an inherited genetic mutation which prevents HIV from attaching to cells, and the marrow donor was one of those. But before the world gets too excited, it’s important to note that this is an isolated case, and we won’t know how reliable this treatment is until it’s tried several more times. Also, since the anti-HIV mutation is so rare, it’s not realistic to assume that all of the 30 million or so people infected with HIV can hope for a similar transplant, not to mention the fact that the procedure is extraordinarily expensive. But, this does bode well for more research into gene therapy as a treatment for HIV. If we can somehow replicate this mutation, then we might be one step closer to a cure. Or, if this were a Michael Crichton novel, we might be one step closer to having science blow up violently and hilariously in our faces, teaching us all a childish and unnecessary lesson about playing god. More details here.

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