spoke at a news conference at the International AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2012. Brown’
Brown told the news conference that he was doing well – he is still free of the virus that causes AIDS and has now been off anti-retroviral medications for five years.
Brown, often referred to as "the Berlin patient," responded to a controversy that arose recently when tissue samples showed evidence of HIV when tested.
Steven Yuki at the University of California, San Francisco, and one of the scientists who'd tested Brown's samples, expressed doubts during a June 8 talk at the International Workshop on HIV and Hepatitis Virus in Sitges, Spain.
There were some signals of the virus, and we don't know if they are real or contamination, Yuki said, at this point, we can't say for sure whether there's been complete eradication of HIV.
Brown's story began in 1995 when he was diagnosed with HIV while attending school in Berlin. For the next 11 years, doctors treated him with anti-retroviral therapy, to which he responded positively.
In 2006, however, Brown's health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent chemotherapy. While the first round of treatment appeared to work, it also made him more susceptible to infections. Brown developed pneumonia early on in his treatment, and he battled sepsis halfway through his third round of chemo. His doctors realized they would have to try a different approach.
His oncologist, Dr. Gero Hutter of the Charite Hospital in Berlin, opted to give Brown a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia. But rather than choosing a matched donor, he used the stem cells of a donor he found who had what is known as a CCR5 mutation -- a mutation that makes cells immune to the HIV. Results of the treatment process were later published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Brown stopped taking his anti-retrovirals three months later, and he said he has never needed them since. The only drawback of his treatment is that he has endured some neurological damage. "There was a period after my transplant when I couldn't even walk," he said.
Brown's stem cell procedure was so difficult and expensive that most agree it is unlikely that it will be used as a way to cure HIV for the millions of others who are infected. Still, hope remains that Brown's case could pave the way for a widely used cure.
According to Dennis Lox, MD, a sports, physical and regenerative medicine specialist in the Tampa Bay area, stem cells appear to hold great promise in treating a variety of diseases and conditions, and the apparent success in the treatment of Brown furthers that promise. Some conditions, such as joint, tendon and muscle injuries, are treatable now with stem cells. Other conditions, such as ALS, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration and MS, appear to be treatable with stem cell therapy, but widespread treatment is still in the near-future.
New England Journal of Medicine article at http://www.nejm.org/