Second person appears to be cured of AIDS

According to the New York Times a second person appears to have been cured of HIV AIDS after a bone marrow transplant from someone who had a rare genetic mutation that kept the virus from easily fusing with their CD4 cells.

The transplant was not intended to cure the virus – it was aimed at dealing with the patients’ cancer.

This is similar to the first guy who got cured.

The first guy to have gotten cured was Timothy Ray Brown. He had leukemia, which chemo therapy had failed to overcome. The bone marrow transplants involved using powerful drugs to suppress his immune system, drugs that nearly killed him.

After his reported cure scientists tried to reproduce the results in other patients – with no luck. After nine months the disease came back. They figured it may well have been the extreme conditions that led to Brown’s cure, and that most people wouldn’t survive that.

The thing is technology marches on. The drugs that nearly killed Brown aren’t in use anymore, and this second patient, who was suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, received less intense drugs.

Which means this patient wasn’t as ill as Brown, but got the same result.

The thing is that this isn’t a practical cure for AIDS – because bone marrow transplants are still risky procedures that can cause complications for years, and HIV can be treated with ARVs in the meantime, but it does indicate that we’re getting closer to that practical cure.

According to Nature the mutation, called delta 32, only appears in people of European descent, possibly having started off amongst the Vikings and been spread by their various invasions.

This mutation probably survived in Europe because of a past epidemic that made having it an advantage. The favourite candidates for this epidemic are the black death and smallpox.

Smallpox is similar to HIV in that it uses the CCR5 receptor to infiltrate its host cell.

Having this mutation isn’t the same as being immune to AIDS – but it does make it much harder for the virus to take root, which makes one much more resistant to it.

My Take

One of the responses to this story that I saw was someone saying that God reveals stuff like this to geniuses automatically through spiritual guidance.

This is how we fail to make progress.

The thing with science is that it actually doesn’t take a genius to do it, it takes time and hard work. There is no revelation, there is painstaking step-by-step effort that goes into it, with each step essentially amounting to stating the obvious.

This is why fraud is such a huge problem in science, because each lie essentially slows down the problem solving process, setting progress back.

And each liar thinks they’re a genius who knows better than what the data is showing them.

Scientists don’t get a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night, scientists observe what is going on, record it, and slowly form hypothesis which fail, only to give them more data to form more hypothesis.

This second patient underwent treatment in 2016, we’re only hearing about this now because that’s how long it took researchers to make sure that they were cured.

It isn’t something that comes naturally to us as a species. Scientists are generally reasonable authorities within their own fields, but no better than well educated laymen outside of them, because it isn’t about genius – it is about putting in the work.

Nothing about this is automatic.

People only have so much time to put so much work into any given field, hence why a genius in one area can be an idiot in another.

This is an important point of humility for anyone to accept – that there will always be gaps in anyone’s knowledge.

But this is also an important point for us to acknowledge in dealing with our other problems. It doesn’t take a genius to fix them.

It takes doing the work, and doing it honestly. It takes failing over and over again, and honestly recording the failures so that the next person who comes along can see what didn’t work – and can use that data to figure out what they can do differently.

We tend to think of the people who solved big problems in the past as geniuses, because it puts their achievements out of our reach. We tell ourselves that we could never do that, so that we never feel that we have to.

Sure talent is a thing, there are people who are much better at some things than others, there are people who are just plain better in general than others, but in reality the gap generally isn’t that wide.

If we do the work, and do it honestly, we may not fix everything, but we can fix some things, and over time make progress on the things we don’t. In the long run we’re all dead, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about the problems we have today – and leave the data behind to help future generations figure out how to solve the problems of tomorrow.


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