By: Ariana Ceballos
In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic raged through nations including the United States. A lack of knowledge about it, along with wrongful discrimination against those afflicted by the illness, caused mainstream hysteria in the country. At its peak, HIV and AIDS research was secondary to politicians focusing on the image of the illness rather than its cause. Third-world countries and gay populations suffered the most losses dealing jointly with death and discrimination.
Today however, HIV and AIDS have treatments that can be given to those infected. Much research has been done that debunks the false and prejudiced claims made back in the 80s. In fact, there is ongoing research actively seeking to find a cure for HIV that will lead to a decrease in cases of AIDS. Recently, researchers might have cured a woman infected with HIV for the first time, bringing hope in today’s pandemic times.
In an NBC article, reporter Benjamin Ryan details the remarkable possible cure for HIV made by an “American research team.” The woman, in this case, is being referred to as the “New York Patient,” as she went in for treatment for her leukemia at the New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
James Gallagher, a health and science correspondent for the BBC, describes the procedure underwent by the “New York Patient” as the following, “she received a stem cell transplant from someone with natural resistance to the AIDS-causing virus.” Because the patient was in treatment for cancer, the stem cell transplant was necessary in her case. Ryan for NBC describes, “It is unethical, experts stress, to attempt an HIV cure through a stem cell transplant… in anyone who does not have a potentially fatal cancer or other condition.” While this case does not offer a cure for the many people living with HIV because of the impossibility of having a person who does not require a stem cell transplant undergo the procedure, it is still a sign of hope.
The same BBC article includes a quote from Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, in which she states that the findings, “confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens using gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure.” Researchers are monitoring the most effective ways to tackle the virus, proving that what is believed to be impossible, can become possible in terms of HIV research. While there is still a long way to go to find a cure for HIV, the 3 individuals who have been cured of the virus will hopefully be followed by double the patients in the coming years.
The “New York Patient” has stopped her antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV and has not encountered a “resurgent virus.” Apoorva Mandavilli for the New York Times elaborates on why this case is remarkable. She states that while “women account for more than half of HIV cases in the world, they makeup 11% in cure trials.” The “New York Patient” is the only woman to be cured, giving hope to those— not just in cure trials— but also suffering from the virus.
Additionally, Dr. Steven Deeks, from the University of California, San Francisco commented on the case by saying that “the fact that she’s mixed race and a woman is really important scientifically and in terms of community impact.” It is important to note that more research is being done and including infected populations that were once discriminated against, which is something I value.
This recent study shows the progress being made in HIV and AIDS research. The fact that the “New York Patient’’ is a part of a minority group that was overlooked back in the 1980s at the peak of the virus, stresses that they are now being accounted for in studies. As this case took place in the US, I hope other nations will also start to look towards American researchers for help in regulating HIV cure trials and modeling their medical approaches, including implementing inclusivity. While we are living in a pandemic that has no foreseeable end, I believe that it is important to reflect on this progress being made in finding a cure for HIV that has caused suffering for so many people. It is with the help of science and the remarkable researchers that get citizens through the impossible.