A miracle cure against HIV
- A woman living with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and administered an experimental treatment is likely ‘cured’.
- Only three people so far are known to have been cured of HIV.
What do we know about the treatment?
- US researchers have described the case of a 60-year-old African American woman who was diagnosed with an HIV infection in 2013.
- She was started on the standard HIV treatment regimen of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) therapy consisting of tenofovir, emtricitabine and raltegravir.
- She was given cord blood, or embryonic stem cells, from a donor with a rare mutation that naturally blocks the HIV virus from infecting cells.
- She was also given blood stem cells, or adult stem cells, from a relative.
- The adult stem cells boosted the patient’s immunity and possibly helped the cord blood cells fully integrate with the lady’s immune system.
- Now she has no sign of HIV in her blood and also has no detectable antibodies to the virus.
- Embryonic stem cells are potentially able to grow into any kind of cell and hence their appeal as therapy, though there is no explanation for why this mode of treatment appeared to be more effective.
What is unique about the recovery of this woman?
- Timothy Ray Brown or the ‘Berlin patient’ staved off the virus for 12 years but died of cancer in 2020.
- Adam Castillejo, was the second reported case of a cure.
- Both men received bone marrow transplants from donors who carried a mutation that blocks HIV infection.
- Previous transplants involved adult stem cells and these cells from the bone marrow replaced their immune system.
- The body’s natural tendency is to reject foreign stem cells and so both donors suffered side effects such as graft versus host disease where the donor’s cells attack the recipient’s body.
- It is only been five-odd years of being HIV-free, it remains to be seen if the lady will live longer than Brown or Castillejo.
Is this treatment the long-sought cure for AIDS?
- This requires stem cells from that rare group of individuals with the beneficial mutation.
- Anti-retroviral therapy has now ensured that HIV/AIDS isn’t always a death sentence and many with access to proper treatment have lifespans comparable to those without HIV.
- A vaccine for HIV or a drug that eliminates the virus is still elusive and would be the long-sought ‘cure’ for HIV/AIDS.
- It is certainly a welcome addition but, stem cell therapy is a cumbersome exercise and barely accessible to most HIV patients in the world.
Prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India
- As per the India HIV Estimation 2019 report, the estimated adult (15 to 49 years) HIV prevalence trend has been declining in India since the epidemic’s peak in the year 2000 and has been stabilising in recent years.
- In 2019, HIV prevalence among adult males (15–49 years) was estimated at 0.24% and among adult females at 0.20% of the population.
- There were 23.48 lakh Indians living with HIV in 2019.
- Maharashtra had the maximum at 3.96 lakh followed by Andhra Pradesh (3.14 lakh) and Karnataka.
- ART is freely available to all those who require and there are deputed centres across the country where they can be availed from.