Thinking the unthinkable, and saying it out loud: curing HIV

HIV-infected cell: photo by AJC1

Up until recently the notion of talking about finding a cure for HIV would have been ridiculed. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence. Now we have powerful medications that can keep the virus in check, but even those just manage the disease and don’t get rid of it. They also carry with them their own long-term health risks.

Today, however, we are not just talking openly about finding a cure for HIV, we are actively working towards it.

Several things have changed the nature of the conversation:

  • Timothy Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient”, who is considered functionally cured of HIV after a combination of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was HIV-resistant. Six years after his transplant he still has no detectable level of HIV in his system
  • A Mississippi baby who was born HIV+ was given powerful antiretroviral drugs shortly after birth. Two years later the girl has no detectable level of virus
  • Two HIV infected patients in Boston were given bone-marrow transplants to fight blood cancer. More than four months later they are still apparently virus free, even after stopping antiretroviral medications
  • Researchers in France have been following 14 people treated with antiretroviral drugs shortly after being infected with HIV. After several years of treatment those patients have barely detectable levels of HIV in their system, even after they stopped taking the anti-HIV medications

For researchers working on finding effective therapies against HIV these are more than just hopeful stories, they are guides to how they can defeat the virus.

Several research teams are developing variations on the method that worked for Timothy Brown, using a combination stem cell/gene therapy approach to attack the virus. CIRM is funding two of those teams Calimmune and City of Hope. Other teams are taking a different approach, but the goal is the same, coming up with a cure for HIV.

On Tuesday, October 1 from 6.00-8.00pm we are partnering with the Gladstone Institutes and the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF to bring some of these teams together for a Community Town Hall Forum on HIV Cure Research (here’s the agenda on our website). It’s a free public meeting where some of the leading researchers in this field will talk about their work, the progress being made, the problems still to be overcome, and the hope for the future.

The speakers are:
Steve Deeks – DARE/UCSF Division of HIV/AIDS
Mike McCune – DARE/UCSF Division of Experimental Medicine
Hans-Peter Kiem – DefeatHIV/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center
Warner Greene – CARE/Gladstone Institutes
Alan Trounson – CIRM
Maria MIllan – CIRM

The Forum is being held in the State Building at 455 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco, just around the corner from City Hall. (Here’s a map)

If you would like to attend please RSVP at

For those unable to attend in person we will be videotaping the event and posting the video online at a later date.

It promises to be a conversation that is engaging and informative and that just a few years ago would have been considered impossible.

Kevin McCormack

3 thoughts on “Thinking the unthinkable, and saying it out loud: curing HIV

  1. Stem Cell Discovery May Lead To New ALS Treatment

    “The problem with ALS and similar diseases is that groups of nerve cells degenerate and die with no way back,” says Professor Melamed. “We don’t know why this occurs, and the treatment we all dream of is one that will stop or slow down the disease’s progression, but how can we do that without knowing the cause for the degeneration and death of the cells? So we developed a treatment that is based on the patient’s own stem cells.”

    “We take them out of the bone marrow, ‘clean them’ and replicate them in very large numbers. Then we treat them with chemicals, which convert them into nerve cells, and we inject them into the spine and muscles. These nerve cells secrete a growth hormone that supports existing nerve cells, slowing down, and even halting degeneration.”
    “Brainstorm’s treatment is currently in very early stages of experimentation,” adds Efrat Karmi, CEO of IsrA.L.S. “We are familiar with the science at the basis of the treatment and the preliminary results so we can definitely say that we should go forward with the experiment and we should hope that in the future it will prove to be effective and accessible to all patients. There is more unknown than known at this point – but there’s definitely reason to be hopeful.”

  2. Dear Ileana
    Yes we did think about streaming the event unfortunately the building we are holding it in does not have an internet connection and the WiFi signal is far too weak for us to put up something like this. That is why we are videotaping it and posting the video online. It's not our first choice but it does at least enable others to watch it later.

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