The search for a cure - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

The search for a cure

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The past 28 years haven't been easy for Janet Johnson.  She's been living with HIV, the disease that causes AIDS. 

In an interview with ABC 33/40, she says she has lost a lover, a husband and a child to the virus. 

"I'm hanging on for the cure," said Johnson,  an HIV Peer Mentor for Jefferson County. "What I encourage people to do is test, know your status, link to care and stay there."

Like the thousands of others currently living with HIV, Johnson takes a cocktail of medication in order to keep her viral load undetectable. 

A recent medical breakthrough could give researchers a new way to attack the virus.  At a recent International AIDS Society meeting in Malaysia, doctors presented two patients infected with HIV as examples of their medical developments. 

The patients received bone marrow transplants to treat cancer and after stopping their HIV medications, they showed no trace of the infection. The findings are encouraging to researchers. 

"At this point, neither of the patients or detectable HIV virus in blood or in tissue but it's a little early to claim that as a cure," said Dr. Craig Hoesley, Associate Professor at UAB. " In order to prevent rejection of the transplanted bone marrow, you have to take medications that actually suppress your immune system and prevent rejection of the bone marrow. So in effect, you're trading one immune compromising condition for another." 

Bone marrow transplants come with risks. The procedure is both costly and 15 to 20 percent of patients don't survive the procedures. Johnson said for her, the risks aren't worth taking. 

"I don't know if I'm that willing to go that close to death for a maybe," said Johnson. 

Local advocacy groups feel this latest research provide hope to the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV that a cure is on the way, a hope Johnson is holding onto tightly. 

 

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