Tuesday, Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center met in Seattle with Timothy Ray Brown. Brown is the first person ever cured of HIV. He had been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1995 and subsequently was diagnosed with leukemia. After a failed period of chemotherapy, Brown came to require a stem-cell transplant. It happened one of the donor matches identified for him possessed the gene-resistance to HIV. Essentially, it was a genetic anomaly that allowed Brown to come by just the right mutation among stem-cell matches and was cured of HIV.
That fortunate coincidence and its apparent outcome has Hutchninson’s scientists especially excited. The HutchinsonCenter is where such transplants initially were pioneered. Scientists now seek to build on that knowledge to search for a cure for the millions living with HIV infection today. Brown’s case is considered to be a major break in developing strategies for a cure.
“He really sparked a new direction in the HIV field,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem of Brown’s case.
“A cure for HIV is inevitable,” said Dr. Keith Jerome. “It’s going to happen.”
Experts come to the HutchinsonCenter from multiple health disciplines to concentrate their efforts toward the elimination of cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death. Biological scientists conduct fundamental research to discover mechanisms underlying the life of normal cells and changes in these processes that cause disease. Clinical research scientists develop and test new forms of diagnosis and therapy. Public health scientists develop and apply new knowledge to help individuals and communities reduce the incidence and death-rate from cancer and related diseases. Bringing specialists together from all fields to integrate their findings and insights has proven to enhance the development and testing of new approaches at Hutchinson.
HutchinsonCenter will be pursuing development of an HIV cure under a $20 million, five-year research grant announced Monday by the National Institutes of Health.
“The field is now addressing the possibility of developing a cure, it was an abstract notion,” said Kiem, an expert in stem-cell transplantation who will serve as one of two principal investigators on the grant project. The University of California, San Francisco, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, also will receive similar grants according to NIH. All three institutions are recipients of grants under the Martin Delaney Collaboratory, a funding opportunity designed to foster public-private partnerships to accelerate progress toward an HIV cure. Delaney, an influential AIDS activist, died of liver cancer in 2009.
Thursday, Brown spoke at Seattle University about his experience and aspirations to help scientists to develop an HIV cure with stem-cell-based therapies.