There were also new glimmers of hope in terms of treatment. One major story was reported as a case study in February in the New England Journal of Medicine. The patient in question was both HIV-positive and had leukemia, and received a stem cell transplant to help cure the cancer. The transplant was unique, however, in that the donor carried a rare gene mutation providing virtual immunity to HIV.
The result: post-transplant, the patient now has no detectable level of HIV in his system.
Johnston stressed that such a therapy could never become a widespread treatment for HIV/AIDS, because the donor pool is so scarce and bone marrow transplants carry a 30 percent risk of death. But the case does offer intriguing possibilities.
"It's a proof of concept that maybe you can cure HIV," she said. "So, there's been interest in finding out where you could do something similar with using gene therapy, for example," bypassing the need for dangerous stem cell transplants.
Other advances in HIV/AIDS made headlines as well in 2009. In February, a topical microbicide gel was found to cut the odds of HIV infection in at-risk African women by 30 percent, while in September researchers at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative said they'd discovered two immune-system antibodies that might become powerful, broad-spectrum targets for vaccine research in the future.
And in policy news, the Obama administration in late October lifted a decades-old ban on foreigners with HIV entering the United States. As reported by the Associated Press, Obama described the ban as a policy "rooted in fear rather than fact," and said its removal would encourage HIV testing and help save lives.
Still, despite this year's advances, HIV/AIDS continues its decades-long swath of destruction, both in the United States and globally.
As Fauci pointed out, the annual rate of new infections in the Uni
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