Timothy Brown is currently the most discussed person among all those trying to find a cure to AIDS. This American gay man was a student in Berlin in 1994 when diagnosed with it, considered incurable by almost all until 2007, when he underwent a bone marrow transplant.
The reason AIDS is so hard to beat is due to the ability of the human immuno-deficiency virus to ligate itself to the DNA of the patient. The virus can hide from the patient’s immune system for years. By the time the virus finally surfaces, the patient’s immune system is rendered so weak that it can’t even fight ailments as common as the common cold. The patient has to depend on anti-viral drugs throughout his life that only keep the number of the virus under check as the drugs fail to eliminate the lurking copies.
The virus attacked Brown’s immune system too. His white blood cells (WBCs) were reduced to the extent that he was diagnosed of acute myeloid leukemia in 2006. His doctor suggested a bone marrow transplant to repopulate the WBCs with a donor with natural mutation in the CCR5 gene. The gene codes for a protein on the surface of WBCs which channels the HIV into the cells.
In the mutated individual, HIV cannot enter the WBCs. What has puzzled the researchers is that Brown now shows no sign of AIDS despite the fact that he hasn’t taken anti-viral drugs since the day of the transplant.
The case is a very lucky one, undoubtedly for Brown and equally so for AIDS researchers. It is hoped that the miracle that happened with Brown is soon unfolded and replicated with the millions of patients worldwide.