Here we are, just past the midway point in 2013, about to celebrate our independence as a country. July 4 is a day where many people reflect upon the taxing trials and tribulations that had to be made to get this country where it is today (for better or worse), and how we’re now pushing the boundaries of space travel again, with talk of human permanence in space further granting us independence from the rock we were created on. It’s progress that has been anticipated for decades, and may very well be one of 2013’s most memorable scientific bullet points, when viewed years in the future. Perhaps situated next to augmented reality tech or 3D printing.
Never would I have expected 2013 to be the year that humans finally make headway in declaring independence from the HIV virus, however. Two U.S. patients received bone marrow transplants to remove cancerous tissue, and have since become both cancer-free and HIV-free, weeks after ceasing their anti-retroviral therapy. This is the most recent case, following other stories involving a child and a group of adults who were shown to also be “cured” of HIV after stopping treatments. A strong factor in those cases was early detection, which led to immediate medicating. It isn’t clear from the AP story how long the patients were afflicted with the virus before the surgery, but any way it goes, this is another amazing breakthrough.
Researchers Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritkes of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital — a Harvard-affiliated institution — announced last year that the blood cancer-stricken men’s blood samples showed no signs of HIV eight months after receiving the transplants. But that was when they were still going through anti-retroviral therapy. One of the men stopped his treatments 15 weeks ago, while the other quit seven weeks ago, and more recent tests have shown both men are still free from the virus.
“They are doing very well,” Henrich said. “While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured. Only time will tell.” He went on to explain that the virus could perhaps still be present in other organs they haven’t tested, such as the liver, spleen, or brain, and that its return months later is still a possibility. Both men will return to treatments should the virus come back. More testing and more waiting are really the only ways they’ll be able to tell, but I bet they’ll be some of the most appreciated months of these men’s lives.
“These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy,” wrote chief executive of The Foundation of AIDS Research Kevin Robert Frost for a press statement. “While stem cell transplantation is not a viable option for people with HIV on a broad scale because of its costs and complexity, these new cases could lead us to new approaches to treating, and ultimately even eradicating, HIV.” And if 3D-printed stem cells ever become commonplace, it’ll be a big leg up on lowering costs. Unless Big 3D Printing Pharma gets greedy with it.
A genuine cure for this stubborn plight of many a population hasn’t been awaited as long as space travel, but I don’t think anyone thought it would take this long to see somewhat consistent positive results. I could go for a good inspiring speech right now. Where’s Independence Day‘s President Whitmore when you need him?