SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Medical researchers are reporting a new milestone in their search for a cure for the HIV virus and that for the second time in 12 years, the virus has been eradicated by a patient. The news is giving many living with the disease hope.
Almost 16,000 people in San Francisco are living with the virus that causes HIV/AIDS. One of them is former San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who was diagnosed 22 years ago, when people were still dying from AIDS.
"It was total terror. The idea of hope to me is we can finally put this episode behind us," said Sheehy.
But Sheehy said Tuesday's announcement from doctors in London is a major breakthrough.
"It is kind of astonishing we made this much progress this quickly for a disease that is so incredibly complex," he said.
The patient has not been identified, but researchers say the man had Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer in addition to HIV.
That man received a bone marrow transplant for the cancer by a donor who had a gene mutation resistant to HIV. 18 months later, doctors said there was no sign of the virus.
"And so we were now 18 months in and we are confident this will be along term remission. But it is too early to see as to whether this is a cure or not," said Prof. Ravindra Gupta, lead researcher at University College London
The first person cured of HIV 12 years ago, Timothy Ray Brown said he is glad he no longer shares that distinction by himself.
"I knew I was the only person cured of HIV at that point and i didn't want to be the only person. And so I pretty much gave my life up, my other life, and that became my mission. And because I felt like I had a moral obligation to make sure that there were more and more of me," said Brown.
Sheehy, who takes three pills a day for HIV, serves on the board for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
He said the breakthrough may help researchers find a cure through gene therapy.
"We are so close to figuring out a way to finally cure this disease that has taken so many lives," said Sheehy.
The researchers are presenting details of their study at a conference in Seattle.
They say this is not a treatment for everyone with HIV, but one piece in the HIV cure puzzle.