Tuesday, December 01, 2015

VICE Special Report "Countdown to Zero" on HBO plays on World AIDS Day, ending with a report on Timothy Ray Brown, cured "incidentally" of HIV with a special stem cell transplant for leukemia

HBO aired a VICE Special Report on “Countdown to Zero” on the 20th World AIDS Day on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, link here.

Shannon Smith presided over a documentary on current and recent efforts to eventually rid the world of HIV.

Now there are 37 million total cases since 1981, with a million deaths a year.  Back around 1982, I recall a conversation (at a meeting in a Dallas hotel where CDC’s James Curran attended and the word “AIDS” was invented) predicting “9 million deaths”.

The documentary presented the work on “long term non-progressors”: a handful of elderly men who may have been infected in the 1980s but never developed symptoms or profound T4-cell loss.  Are their T4-cells different in some way that the virus has trouble entering?  Does natural resistance exist in nature?

The program explained the progress with protease inhibitors, which work well with patients who can afford them, and which have fewer side effects now than in the past (the “protease paunch” is pretty much a thing of the past).

The show moved to Africa, to South Africa and Rwanda, and interviewed former president George W. Bush in Texas about the international programs of his own administration.  He looks older now.

The history of Timothy Ray Brown, who had HIV eradicated, as presented. Brown was HIV positive and developed leukemia.  He got a stem cell transplant to cure the leukemia, but it was decided to use donors with a “CCR5” gene which configures the surface of a T4 cell so that it is very difficult for the HIV virus to enter.  The gene occurs in northern Europe among populations that survived the plague six centuries ago. The transplant was done in Dresden, Germany (which I actually visited in May 1999).  He may be the only person completely cured of HIV so far. But the technique could be used with successive plasmapheresis to replace most of the T4 cells eventually with cells with the desirable mutation.  Wikipedia has the story here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Ray_Brown   Besides his pancreatic cancer test, maybe making a process like this work will get the attention of Jack Andraka once in or after medical school in a few years.

This film is being shown in 52-minute episodes as a TV series but seems to also be formatted for release by Magnolia Pictures, with production from Participant Media.

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