The Philadelphia Inquirer tells the story of how another piece of the HIV puzzle was found after the Rev. Robert Massie walked into the office of AIDS researcher Bruce Walker sixteen years ago and asked to become a human guinea pig.
AIDS researchers announced Thursday that they had finally cracked a long-standing puzzle: Why a few people can get infected with the AIDS virus and remain healthy without treatment.
It was the culmination of a 16-year effort that started with one HIV-positive minister coming into the office of AIDS researcher Bruce Walker and asking to become a human guinea pig.
Episcopal minister Robert Massie was expected to have died from his infection years earlier, and yet felt inexplicably well. He thought if doctors studied him, they might find a way to help others with HIV to stay healthy, too.
Eventually, thousands of HIV-positive volunteers joined the effort, including about 20 in Philadelphia, helping scientists to pinpoint a set of genetic differences that allow about 1 in 300 infected people to keep the virus in check.
Thanks to their genetics, these "controllers" have a slightly different immune response - a better ability to signal danger so that "killer" T-cells can keep the AIDS virus from replicating and destroying immune cells.
The researchers hope their findings, released Thursday afternoon in the online version of the journal Science, could help inform the quest for new AIDS therapies. About 33 million people worldwide are infected with the virus, including about 19,000 in Philadelphia, which has one of the nation's highest infection rates.