HIV and the Question of a Future Cure

A common discussion regarding HIV is, “Why isn’t there a cure?” or, “When will there be a cure?” along with misinterpretations of certain cases such as, “Well, aren’t some people cured, like Magic Johnson, or that guy in Berlin?”

The big question of, “Why isn’t there a cure?” basically comes down to HIV and its RNA. As for what that means:

“HIV is a retrovirus. DNA is usually transcribed into RNA which is then used as a template for building proteins; HIV can work this process backwards, so its RNA is used to make DNA which is then inserted into the host genome. It becomes a part of you. Thus, it’s really good at lying dormant. You could eliminate all free virus from the body, and you could kill all cells with active replication of HIV, and for influenza that would be it—infection over. But HIV would emerge from your own DNA eventually and you’d still be infected and have to take antiretrovirals long term.”

This has led researchers to do extensive research on methods of editing genes and basically trying to prevent HIV’s process. There still is much left to research however and with the complexities of HIV there is an immense amount of data to sort-through and examine.

magic johnson
Magic Johnson

Through the use of various treatments and experiments progress has been made, but there is not an actual cure. Magic Johnson has been HIV-positive for more than 20 years now but has emphasized he is not cured, he has just received stellar medical treatment and worked extremely hard to maintain his health.

Also, it is often discussed how man named Timothy Ray Brown who had HIV and received a bone marrow transplant to assist him in combating Leukemia (which was unrelated to his HIV). It is unclear what exact step seems to have eliminated HIV from Brown’s system, but at some point between purposely destroying his immune system to ready him for the transplant and his receiving the transplant which came from a donor who had a mutation that makes it harder to infect white blood cells (and another transplant later) Mr. Brown appears to have HIV cells in his system but they are not replicating–a, “Functional,” cure, but not a total elimination of HIV from his system, or, “Sterilizing cure.” It is fascinating but not exactly easy to replicate–his treatment was extremely dangerous and literally destroyed his immune system and involved complex bone-marrow transplants.

Researchers continue to work hard at trying to find ways to potentially cure HIV and intriguing cases such as Timothy Ray Brown are of great use in this research. While a cure is searched for, continued advancements in treating HIV have allowed individuals from celebrities such as Magic Johnson to the general populace to live long and normal lives thanks to a variety of medications that help combat HIV.


HIV RNA Discussion:

Magic Johnson clarifying he is note cured:

Discussion of, “The Berlin Patient,” case:

Types of Cures–functional versus sterilizing:


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