Scientists from Germany have reported that they may have made a breakthrough after curing one man’s infection of HIV. The man was infected with HIV and suffering from leukemia of the immune system. As the virus feeds on the immune system, the scientists decided to eliminate it and thus cure the man. But the potential cure has many drawbacks as well and many are suggesting this is not the cure the scientific community has been searching for all these years.
Through high doses of chemotherapy, scientists were able to eliminate the man’s immune system and then transplant it back to him with stem cells. As a result, the man’s destroyed immune system was recreated by additional stem cell transplants and the cancer was eliminated through the same process. As a result, in one fell swoop the German scientists were able to cure not only the man’s HIV but his cancer as well. But there is a down side to this therapy as well.
The patient’s DNA contained a rare specific gene designed to be extremely resistant to the HIV virus. This means the stem cells introduced into his body had help. And now after three years since the initial treatments began the patient is free of any trace of HIV. While it is far from a cure, the use of stem cells to reconstitute the immune system certainly opens doors for potential future innovations in medicine. But the idea of completely removing a person’s immune system is certainly enough to leave many people hesitant about using the treatment as it could be in some cases even worse than the disease itself.
And it’s not simply the removal of the immune system that could be a problem. The very system designed to eliminate a person’s immune system is extremely harsh on a patient’s body. In the end this “cure” will likely take research a step further, but not necessarily cure most patients of the illness. Additionally, the patients would have to meet a specific genetic criteria that is present in less than 1% of the total population.
The immune system is one of the most important parts of the human body. When it’s in proper working condition, patients are able to fully reap its benefits. When it does not, work, however, even something as simple as the common cold can wreak havoc on the body. While this experiment does not mean a cure for HIV has been discovered, the disease could in theory result in future experiments that could result in such a cure at some future date.
Of course one of the major controversies about the treatment is that it uses stem cells. Stem cells have been controversial because they were once thought only to come from fetuses. However, in time, scientists were able to discover ways to extract stem cells without the need for controversy by extracting them from adults, umbilical cords, and even amniotic fluid.
Will we soon be living in a world where HIV is nothing more than a thing of the past? And what other diseases will scientists be able to cure with similar treatments?