When 28 Stories for AIDS in Africa inspired me to study medicine, I thought I was brilliant enough to find a cure to HIV. I imagined that state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, combined with the drive of curing my patients, would slip everything into place. I imagined that, like a light bulb, the solution would suddenly be clear. I didn’t want fame and fortune, and I still don’t. I want people to get better.
Soon enough I learned that the solution to HIV/AIDS is less simple than slotting numbers together in a mathematical equation. It’s more complex than the chemistry I devoted my time to both in high school and the beginning of university.
The virus is as intelligent as a technically-dead organism could be. It’s powers of mutation are unrivaled. Its survival mechanisms are cunning. It hides when you are looking for it. It multiplies surreptitiously, destroying the body’s defenses without it realising it. Until it is too late.
Before I understood the virus, I wondered about replacing the entire body’s blood supply in one go – remove all the infected blood at once and replace it with healthy blood. But the virus does not settle simply in the blood. It creates reservoirs in the bone marrow and the spleen. And evidence shows that reservoirs may be established in the kidneys and the brain.
Then the Berlin patient was cured in an unorthodox and dangerous fashion: Leukemia treatment and bone marrow transplant. Although it has revolutionised the field of HIV-research, the results have failed to be duplicated in subsequent patients.
The field is growing and moving. Today I read an article in the Huffinton Post that shows that we are a step closer once more – and once again it is using a cancer treatment. JQ1, an experimental chemoterapeutic drug, is proving an interesting and potentially powerful drug against HIV. Although it hasn’t yet been tested on human subjects, it seems that this drug releases the latent viruses from their reservoir, thus exposing them to destruction by conventional antiretroviral therapy.
Now the question is: how will it fare in human trials? Will the side-effects be as bad as conventional ARVs? Will there be nasty interactions between this drug and ARVs or Tuberculosis drugs? What about psychiatric effects? Renal effects? Will this become a viable and safe treatment? Will we see cures, or just better-managed infections?
What if a patient has a resistant virus? Then it will be of no use that the virus is released from its reservoir, because it won’t be killed by ARVs.
And the big question: Will this drug be accessible to the developing world? Will it be affordable to those patients who live on less than the equivalent of two Dollars a day? Will our governments fund this medication?
I hope so. Deep inside me I can feel a bubble of excitement. Imagine. Just imagine!
Thanks for posting this! I find it really fascinating that we have gone from discovering antibiotics to figuring out how complex diseases work in the body and finding cures to some of them in such a short amount of time, relatively speaking. That is one of the best things about medicine, to me…the ability to bring some hope to people who are suffering.
BTW, hopping over from Medical Monday!
Right? It keeps me going, keeps me positive. If you’re interested, you should read The Emperor of All Maladies, it has a way of fascinating one even more.
That is an interesting approach, and one I hadn’t considered before! Medicine is exciting, and while it seems like a cure should have already been here ages ago, it is amazing to see how much we have learned along the way. I am excited that you have found a passion, and inspiration. You may very well be the one to cure it, someone has to:-)
Thank you! It does excite me tremendously, but if someone finds a cure before me that’s okay too… there will always be things to investigate.
Ooh, I love reading stuff like this! Probably 70% of the reason I got interested in science/medicine/public health was because of the magnitude of the possibilities! There’s so much for us to discover and the potential for so much collaboration and good, and I love that! Even just thinking about it now makes me jittery.
I know right 😀 the excitement keeps me up at night, sometimes.
I find all the new breakthroughs in medicine just amazing! My husband hold a couple of patents, and having gone through the process with him, has just made me appreciate medical technologies all the more. Getting new medical devices, therapies, drugs, etc through the FDA is a no small accomplishment and every new medical advancement is something to get excited over!
Love seeing you on the Medical Monday grid!
emma where are you from i have a sister that live in england and her name is emma this is janique
I’m in the US! :0)
Oh, I don’t even want to begin to think about patents and all that paperwork and red tape – people who manage to get through all of that really get all my admiration! Thanks for visiting 🙂
thanks for posting this i am a jamaican and i am doing a class research and this information helped me alot. thank you
You’re welcome 🙂
Wow what an amazing read. Gives hope for sure! I also enjoyed your comments on the other Medical Monday Blog Hoppers – you have great insight!
I had heard talks about this a few years ago but finding a cure is not as simple as research. By that I mean, you have to think about the business side of this disease. There are huge corporations that are profiting from supplying Antiretrovirals so this really doesn’t give the big guys any incentive to cure it unfortunately.
Well of course, that is why the last paragraph of the post addresses exactly the problem of money as an incentive – whether or not poor patients will have access to it. But just because we live in a money-rushed world, does not mean that we should stop trying to find a cure. My belief is that the cure will come from an academic institution in a resource-poor country, and not from the big guys.
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