Cutting Through the Hype Surrounding One Man's HIV "Cure"

By Andrew Moseman | December 15, 2010 2:08 pm

HIVbuddingPerhaps you’ve seen the story of the 44-year-old American man reportedly “cured” of HIV in Germany–it’s been making the rounds over the past week. What’s actually happening here?

The Procedure

This is a story that dates back a few years; in fact, 80beats blogged about this case years ago when it first made the news. Back in 2007, the man—Timothy Ray Brown—was an HIV-positive patient suffering from acute myeloid leukemia. When standard chemotherapy couldn’t help him, his docs in Germany turned to a bone marrow transplant, with one twist.

Brown’s oncologist decided to look for a bone marrow donor who had a had a special genetic mutation that made the stem cells in it naturally resistant to HIV infection. His physician, Dr. Gero Huetter, was able to find this rare match and Brown got the bone marrow transplant.  He needed a second stem cell transplant because the cancer came back. Today, he appears to be cancer free and doctors can’t find traces of the virus that causes AIDS either. [CNN]

Brown’s treatment made a splash in the news in 2008, when the doctors first reported on it. It has resurfaced this month because the researchers published a new study in the journal Blood updating his condition.

The researchers confirmed that Brown seems to have maintained his resistance to HIV for three years, confounding their expectation that he would become reinfected. They concluded that a “cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient.” [New Scientist]

The Implications

Because the scientists used the magic word “cure,” the story zoomed across the Web this week. But doctors commenting on the research are careful to point out that a treatment that was seemingly effective in one man does not equal a cure for the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.

For one thing, this is an individualized procedure: Brown had to be matched carefully with the donated marrow so his body would not reject it, and that was difficult to achieve. In addition, only about 1 percent of Caucasians have the HIV-resistant variant in their bone marrow, CNN reports—”zero percent of African Americans or Asians have this particular genetic mutation.”

And then there’s the question of killing the patient to cure the disease.

“This probably is a cure, but it comes at a bit of a price,” said Dr. Michael Saag, professor of medicine and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham AIDS Center. “For him to receive the donor cells, his body had to have all of his immune system wiped out” and then receive a bone marrow transplant, Saag noted. “The Catch-22 here is that the best candidates for a cure, ideally, are people who are healthy” and don’t have leukemia. The treatment associated with wiping out the immune system “is very hazardous,” he said in a telephone interview. [CNN]

Not everyone would make it through the procedure, according to Margaret Fischl of the AIDS clinical research unit at the University of Miami.

This treatment also carries with it a 30 percent risk of death, Fischl added. “That he was young and got through it is quite remarkable,” she said. “I would never give this to a healthy patient. I could never justify it. If you use this therapy, 30 percent of your patients could die from the intervention.” [U.S. News & World Report]

The study is an open door to new research avenues, Fischl says, not a treatment to be used immediately.

Related Content:
80beats: Once-a-Day Pill Reduces HIV Infections—Would People Actually Take It?
80beats: New HIV Hope? Researchers Find Natural Antibodies That Thwart the Virus
80beats: Gene Therapy Hope for HIV: Engineered Stem Cells Hold Promise
80beats: Researchers Track the HIV Virus to a Hideout in the Bone Marrow
80beats: Beware of Hype: AIDS “Cure” Is Good Science, But Won’t Halt the Epidemic
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Genetic study shows how HIV controllers get their groove

Image: Wikimedia / HIV Budding

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • nick

    This treatment is also quite potentially damaging to the lucrative antiviral market that HIV patients are forced into, at a cost of many thousands of dollars monthly (yes, I know the current treatment is hugely expensive. It was also the first time and as we know, unless patent protected non-generic pills are involved, these things come down in price as the practice spreads). It’s either pay that toll or 100% chance of death. So I can see why doctors around the world would come out against a 70% chance of full recovery from HIV. /joke

    ‘“The Catch-22 here is that the best candidates for a cure, ideally, are people who are healthy” and don’t have leukemia.’ Great! What percentage of HIV patients also have leukemia? Small percent? Too bad they don’t have conditions necessitating bone marrow transplants from HIV resistant donors.

    The side effects from the treatment were pretty bad, but so are the side effects of the antiviral treatments currently used to fight HIV (liver failure and neuropathy being some of the more dire).

    What will be much, much more interesting is when they figure out how to take the patients own bone marrow cells and use some gene therapy procedures to implant the necessary genes to express the cells in a way they are HIV resistant – we do have these techniques, however experimental, and hopefully they will converge. That should wipe out all the bone marrow matching issues. And the funny part is that neutered HIV viruses could be used for such gene therapies, as HIV is most adept at the one huge obstacle of gene therapy, namely getting genes into cells.

    If we didn’t have modern medicine, HIV/AIDS would have wiped out quite a large portion of some of our societies. Those who are evolutionarily resistant, of course, would survive and breed and make the species stronger. However, thanks to our technology, we can just make everyone resistant and our whole species stronger without all that suffering and death and what-not.

  • Tim

    Regardless, this is fantastic news. Perhaps they can isolate the genetic qualities of these resistant people and figure out some sort of cure that isn’t akin to flushing out your entire system.

  • Scientific Truth

    The Silent Revolution in Cancer and AIDS Medicine
    Heinrich Kremer, MD

    Now available translated from German to English for the first time, this book is a must-read for doctors, patients and anyone following the cutting edge of biology and immunology. With the blasting open of such doors of knowledge, the medical world will never again be the same.

    “The knowledge this book conveys may revolutionize cancer and AIDS therapy in the coming years. After having read this book, no responsible doctor should continue to provide such harmful therapy to the patients in his/her care and trust. This book will inform them about the fatal mistakes of their previous therapies, of which until now they were the unwitting victims.”

    “Additionally, this book is indispensable reading for the patient afflicted with cancer or AIDS. Herein for the first time, the exact reasons are revealed to the world why neither cancer nor AIDS must inevitably result in death. These two illnesses are the natural result of a systemic imbalance, which not only can be halted, but can also be healed.”

  • Julian

    I have to agree with nick. It’s something my friends and I have discussed a lot in terms of a cure for HIV: The immediate resistance against it from drug companies, who are making a LOT of money off of HIV medications. My altruistic side says that they would step aside for a cure to HIV and AIDS, but my more cynical side says that when it comes to big business and big money, no holds are barred.

    If/when they figure out how to manipulate our own tissues via gene therapy/stem cells to produce T-cells lacking the CCR5 receptor, I think that will change things dramatically. Wiping out one’s immune system and performing a risky bone marrow transplant will not be the only option, and I hope that alternative methods of therapy are created (and not halted by fundamentalist government like we have seen recently in US history) as this opening of the door towards a cure widens.

  • JT

    Please tell me this is not going to turn into a rant on how physicians and drug companies invented HIV so they can get rich.

  • amphiox

    Too late, JT, it’s already happened.

    But seriously, there aren’t enough HIV patients for HIV drugs to ever be anything more than a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket for Pharmaceuticals profit-wise.

    These companies make their big bucks on statins and ACE inhibitors, and other drugs of this sort. Individually cheap medications that huge numbers of people over a certain age end up having indications for taking, for preventive rather than curative reasons necessitating continued usage for the remainder of their lives.

  • dsinla

    View the Award winning documentary “House of Numbers” to see why questions about this must be raised, and why deeper issues about HIV and AIDS need to be
    discussed. Lives are at risk. This is the first documentary ,with the worlds
    foremost authorities, that highlights the fundamental problems with HIV
    testing, science, and statistics, It sheds new light on a misunderstood
    phenomenon., for which there is still no cure.
    GO to – to see the trailer of “House of Numbers”.

  • TeeDUK

    Right, House of Numbers, which was funded by Peter Duesberg’s “Rethinking AIDS” organization although they never told anyone, and the film doesn’t tell you either. Doesn’t even tell you that many of the interviewees belong to this organization and deny HIV causes AIDS. The film’s synopsis says: “no cure is in sight” – oh really? Tell that to Timothy Ray Brown, whose CD4 T cell are now in the normal range – why exactly would that happen if HIV didn’t cause AIDS? I think even after there’s a universally available cure, AIDS denialism will still be around.

  • Tom

    Timothy Ray Brown’s whole body radiation and chemotherapy had a fairly high chance, I’ve heard as high as 1/3, of killing him. And the odds of finding a MATCHING donor with TWO copies of the 32-base-pair deletion in the CCR5 gene for everyone who is HIV+ is not very likely.

    I estimate that AZT (Retrovir/zodovudine) raked-in a minimum of $20 billion in profit (so far) for the four patent holders (pharmaceutical companies), dozens of drug wholesalers and tens of thousands of drug retailers. Not bad for a drug that was discovered and clinically tested almost totally by the American tax payer.

    Two Japanese teams, led by Japanese-American Dr. Nobuto Yamamoto, have cured 39 young, healthy, recently HIV-infected Japanese patients, according to a January 2009 paper in the Journal of Clinical Virology, and according to FOCIS (immunology) meeting abstracts/posters from 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009 AND according to a paper/poster presented at the 2010 International AIDS Conference, and according to a Russia Today TV interview with the author of the paper/poster Professor Marco Ruggiero.

    Although this is NOT a cure for AIDS, it is far more “suggestive” of a cure for (early) HIV infection than whole body radiation, chemo- therapy and rare donor-matched bone marrow transplant, BECAUSE 39 people have been cured – as opposed to just one (Timothy Ray Brown).

    Timothy Ray Brown’s treatment cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars – perhaps close to a million dollars. The safer Japanese early treatment costs several thousand, perhaps close to ten thousand dollars.

    The problem with the Japanese treatment (GcMAF, a.k.a. Dbp-MAF, a.k.a. Globulin (Gc) Allele) is that it is naturally made by all humans – like factor VIII for hemophilia. Therefore, it can NOT be patented. And although factor VIII is now made by genetically engineered organisms, GcMAF has no backers given that all the money is in treatment, not cures.

    Dr. Nobuto Yamamoto has a patent on a truncated version of GcMAF. And his most recent (early 2010) FOCIS conference paper/abstract claims that, of the 24 recently HIV-infected patients cured, some of them were cured with the truncated (patented version) of GcMAF in as little as eight weeks. But, a full peer-reviewed paper has yet to be published on this patentable treatment. Note that Dr. Yamamoto is now 86 years old, and works out of his house.

    No American clinical trials are being run on GcMAF – that can be found by GOOGLING the internet.

    Worse, no American media organizations DARE to interview Dr. Yamamoto. Far worse, no American HIV/AIDS organizations DARE to interview him – even those working and living just a few miles from his home. Far, far, worse, American coverage of the 2010 International AIDS Conference purposefully ignored the announcement that Dr. Yamamoto had cured 39 young, healthy, recently-HIV-infected Japanese patients over the past 8.5 years. Yet, his (one) peer reviewed paper and (many) FOCIS (Immunology) conference papers/abstracts are on the internet – for free or a small fee.

    Rumors have it that the NIAID is funding both Dr. Yamamoto’s and Professor Marco Ruggiero’s work with GcMAF. But, that work appears to be focused on cancer – as opposed to HIV.

    In January 2010, the Southern University of Denmark published a paper in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, titled ‘The glycosylation and characterization of the candidate Gc macrophage
    activating factor’ indicating that they are working on GcMAF. Denmark is home to the world’s larest manufacturer of insulin. Like GcMAF, insulin must be injected. Novo Nordisk has the technology and know-how to make large amounts of GcMAF.

    A company in Israel and a company in the Netherlands makes AND sells GcMAF. But, there does not appear to be any formal clinical studies of their GcMAF.

    Only the teams of Dr. Nobuto Yamamoto have years of clinical follow-up on their 15+24=-39 ex-HIV patients using THEIR GcMAF treatments.

    The world waits… for clinical trials from an 86 y/o man (Dr. Yamamoto) who now works from his home, while toxic and non-curing AZT rakes-in tens of billions of dollars.

    Given that AZT was discovered and developed with nearly 100% public funding, I would hope that those who now lead our public fight against HIV would support a KNOWN CURE (GcMAF) with the same support that they once gave AZT.

  • Jennifer

    Replying to Nick’s comment, “What will be much, much more interesting is when they figure out how to take the patients own bone marrow cells and use some gene therapy procedures to implant the necessary genes to express the cells in a way they are HIV resistant.” … there is a trial, using this exactly, going on in the Bay Area (CA) in which 10 people are involved. So far the results “are encouraging.”

    Yes, those profiting from “treatment” will invest deeply in preventing any severe loss of revenue, regardless of the human toll…however let’s hope in this specific battle of good and evil that good prevails. I enjoyed your comment, Nick!

  • mrbighands

    I am still amazed of bureaucracy of health system! It took me almost a year to trace the original maker of GcMaf, there are many copy-cats out there that sell it cheaper these days but results are not the same. Anyway, it does work – i am just few weeks in, just got my blood tests back and it’s freaking unbelievable! it does work like it described in Yamomoto’s study. please make it widely available!!!! :(

  • DavidM

    mrbighands, can you tell us which provider you contacted for the GcMaf you used? Congratulations on your good results.

  • stefano

    cronic fatigue syndrom doctors in europe are unsing it from half 2010, the results are the most of cfs patients are regressing and some cured, i guess they will publish results soon

    i am following their results on blogs/forums it is more than 100 patients on trial, the bad side is those doctors don t accept other patients than cfs infected ones

    cfs makes immune system impairment similar to aids and the severe cases with many viruses like cmv, ebv and others at high titers so it is very good to see how potent the treatment is although CFS is much more difficult to treat than a single virus infection like hiv, hbv or hcv

  • Kurt Lore

    Sorry for my noobie question. Could you tell me what this blog template is? I truly love it. Or is it customized template, perhaps? I think it can be a decent option for Google ads as well. I’d like it if you are ablewill let me know about it. Thanks.

  • Geack

    Can we just all agree right now that any comment on a medical issue containing a link to a youtube video be automatically ignored? The quack medicine touts are getting tedious.

  • Shveni Rastogi

    This is one of the. It tells me that you very much It is nice to see people

  • Tom

    Geack Says: “Can we just all agree right now that any comment on a medical issue containing a link to a youtube video be automatically ignored?”

    Tom Says: videos often come from sources more credible than (say) Fox News (Faux News/Fox Noise). Here are links from credible peer-reviewed medical science journals.

    And note that 2.5 years later there is no follow-up by the NIAID, DAIDS, or ACTG. The conflicts of interest are enormous. HIV/AIDS is now a $20-30 Billion/year industry. Inexpensive cures for early infections are condemned by the people who run the NIAID, DAIDS & ACTG. “Money talks”, while cures “walk” (walk away completely ignored).

    What Nobuto Yamamoto, Ph.D. et al proved is that HIV destroys the carrier molecule (GcMAF) for the hormone vitamin-D3. And that restoring that carrier molecule (GcMAF), early in someone’s HIV infection, allows their immune systems to clear HIV – before HIV shuts-down their immune systems and allows all the microbes we carry (CMV, HPV, etc) to destroy those immune systems.


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