Woman’s cure offers cautious hope for local HIV/AIDS organization

The recent news of a woman who was cured of HIV through a stem cell transplant to treat cancer is a promising development in HIV/AIDS research, according to Allies for Health + Wellbeing. Allies, formerly the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, has been serving people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS since 1985 and is the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in western Pennsylvania.

“The fact that three people have now been cured of HIV through bone marrow or stem cell transplants is exciting news,” said Sean DeYoung, Allies CEO. “Though this is not a practical method for our patients and clients to be cured, we are hopeful that this provides researchers a viable avenue to explore more accessible and affordable ways of curing HIV.”

The woman’s case was announced at the annual meeting of the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection which began on Saturday and runs through Feb. 24. Two other patients, the “Berlin patient” and the “London patient” were previously cured of HIV through bone marrow transplants to treat cancer. Though bone marrow and stem cell transplants are commonly used as cancer treatments, they are not likely to be used to treat otherwise healthy individuals with HIV. With regular and consistent use of antiviral medication, people living with HIV can achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot transmit HIV through sexual contact.

“We are hopeful that there will be a cure in the not-too-distant future, but for now, HIV is highly treatable with medication,” DeYoung said. “We are helping our patients and clients live long, full lives with HIV.

“It’s important to remember, too, that HIV is preventable, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV with a daily pill,” DeYoung continued. “Also, the FDA recently approved an injectable form of PrEP that folks can get every two months, and we’re looking forward to offering that option to patients.”

DeYoung noted that science has come a long way since the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force was founded, and the agency’s mission was helping people with AIDS die with dignity.

“It is astounding to see how far we’ve come with HIV treatment, and the future is promising,” DeYoung said.

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