September 25, 2002
One person, Steve Newsom, 41, who was devastated to learn that he had HIV, found out later that he is among the very small number of people whose immune systems manage to kill most of the HIV before it can reproduce in great numbers and compromise their health. "Here I am -- on no drugs, no meds -- doing better than anyone," Newsome said, with a mix of sadness and astonishment. "Why?"
Why indeed. According to researchers, people like Newsom hold the key to the development of HIV vaccines and more effective AIDS treatments. "For some time it's been thought that there are no individuals that can restrict HIV. This isn't true," Dr. Mark Connors, senior clinical investigator in the NIAID's Laboratory of Immunoregulation. "These individuals hold some important answers to how the immune system beats HIV."
Research has uncovered several explanations for why some people with HIV do not get sick or need drugs. Some are infected by a damaged or weaker strain of the virus. Some individuals have more defensive immune systems. It is also possible that a combination of infection with a weaker virus and the presence of a protective gene could make the crucial difference.
Newsom's circumstances, though promising for HIV research, are complicated by the fact that he recently was not able to suppress an infection with hepatitis B, with which he was diagnosed in 1997. There seems to be something specific about his HIV infection allowing his immune system to hold it in check. Earlier this month, NIAID researchers asked Newsom to return to the institute in Maryland every six months instead of the usual once a year.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
09.22.02; Deborah L. Shelton