In 1948, Sidney Farber, a pathologist at the Harvard Medical School, reported a breakthrough in the New England Journal of Medicine.
He found that childhood leukemia was not necessarily a death sentence and that a drug called aminopterin could be employed to check the spread of cancer. Farber based his optimism on 10 of 16 children afflicted with leukemia showing established signs of recovery. Exactly 65 years later, the reported recovery of a solitary, anonymous baby in Mississippi may offer hope that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be conquered using drugs that are already known and well tested.
It will be some time before the medical community formally, and dispassionately, arrives at a consensus of whether a genuine medical breakthrough has been achieved. As of today, there’s no shame in maintaining that the widely-reported medical find may be a happy fluke among the several scintillating finds that continually pop and fade in medical research.
The key reason to be sceptical is that the doctors don’t seem to have done anything different other than administer—extremely early on—known antiretroviral drugs in extremely high doses to the newborn, even before confirming the extent of the infection. Then there’s the intriguing question of why a team of doctors would publicize one success story to claim hope that such a regimen might point a way to conquering a disease that has raged on for at least 32 years.
Farber’s findings couldn’t guarantee that aminopterin was the panacea for childhood leukemia, but thanks to his subsequent activism, it increased the profile of leukemia, paved the way for chemotherapy and birthed new lines of inquiry into understanding the spread of cancer.
Had Monday’s result made its way first in the dour pages of a journal, instead of a media-packed medical conference, it would be far less disheartening to millions of AIDS-afflicted if ultimately the findings prove to be short-lived.
Is so much hope warranted from a one-off successful case of treating HIV? Tell us at email@example.com