Man cured, then uncured, of HIV speaks on Fred Hutch panel

Finding the cure for HIV has had its peaks and valleys, and Gary Steinkohl experienced both.

SEATTLE -- Blessed with a photographic memory, Gary Steinkohl can remember the exact moment he ventured into the medical unknown.

"March 12, 2013.  That day is emblazoned in my mind," said Steinkohl, "It's emblazoned in my soul."

He recalls standing in his kitchen where he would normally take the medication that keeps his HIV in check, the virus he's lived with for more than 30 years.

"I hoped I'd never take them again," he explained, "The moment was so deep."

At the time, Steinkohl was part of a Boston-based stem cell treatment HIV cure study.  It was similar to a project in Germany that led to a pair of patients being cured of the illness.  One of whom, Timothy Ray Brown, is a Seattle man and the only one to go public.

His treatment involved mutated stem cells. Steinkohl's did not.

"What we wanted to know was, could you use the transportation portion of what Brown had, but using cells that are much more common," said Dr. Timothy Henrich, the leader of the study.

For a while, it seemed to work.

"It's so hard to describe walking around the streets of New York, seeing thousands of people and my mind is constantly telling me, 'you're different than everyone around you," said Steinkohl.

"I started to internalize my hope that I was cured," he added, "I was the next, the second person cured of the virus."

However, after seven months he began feeling sick again. Tests showed HIV had returned.

"It was an overwhelming moment," said Steinkohl, "I've gone back to the self I had been, with a bit of pride that I helped advance medical knowledge."

That medical advancement is why Steinkohl and Dr. Henrich are in Seattle, discussing the experience at a panel discussion Wednesday night at Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center.  This week, the facility is hosting a conference on Cell and Gene Therapy for HIV Cure Thursday and Friday.

"So, maybe it didn't work the first time," said Dr. Henrich, "But the fifth or sixth time down the road, hopefully we can make better progress."

Copyright 2016 KING


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