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HIV may have returned in ‘cured’ patient: scientists

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WASHINGTON — An American man whose HIV seemed to disappear after a blood marrow transplant for leukemia may be showing new hints of the disease, sparking debate over whether a cure was really achieved.

Scientists disagree over the latest findings on Timothy Brown, also known as the “Berlin patient,” presented at a conference in Spain last week, according to a report in the journal Science’s ScienceInsider blog.

Brown was given bone marrow transplants in 2006 that appeared to eradicate the human immunodeficiency virus from his body, leading his doctors to declare a “cure of HIV has been achieved” in the peer-reviewed journal Blood in 2010.

The transplants came from a donor with an unusual genetic mutation that is naturally resistant to HIV. About one in 100 Caucasian people have this mutation which prevents the molecule CCR5 from appearing on the cell surface.

The latest debate arose after virologist Steven Yukl of the University of California, San Francisco, gave a talk on June 8 at the International Workshop on HIV & Hepatitis Virus.

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Yukl “highlighted the difficulties that they and several labs they collaborated with have had determining if Brown truly had eradicated the virus from his body,” said the ScienceInsider report.

“There are some signals of the virus and we don’t know if they are real or contamination, and, at this point, we can’t say for sure whether there’s been complete eradication of HIV,” Yukl was quoted as saying by ScienceInsider.

“The point of the presentation was to raise the question of how do we define a cure and, at this level of detection, how do we know the signal is real?”

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However, some scientists interpreted the presentation to mean that a cure was not actually achieved, and that Brown may even have been re-infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

Alain Lafeuillade of the General Hospital in Toulon, France, issued a press release that described how Yukl and colleagues “challenged these results as they showed persistence of low levels of HIV viremia in this patient, and HIV DNA in his rectal cells.”

He noted that “these HIV strains were found to be different from those initially present in this patient back in 2006, and different from each other.”

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While that could mean the HIV has “evolved and persist(ed) over the last 5 years, these data also raise the possibility that the patient has been re-infected,” Lafeuillade wrote.

“More studies are in progress to know if this seronegative HIV individual can infect other subjects if he has unsafe sex,” he concluded.

Yukl, quoted by ScienceInsider, said Lafeuillade misinterpreted the presentation.

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“”We weren’t trying to say HIV was still there or he hadn’t been cured,” he said, noting the talk centered on how to interpret very sensitive test results on Brown’s blood cells, plasma and rectal tissue.

One of his collaborators, Douglas Richman of the University of California, San Diego, said he believes researchers have picked up contaminants.

“If you do enough cycles of PCR (polymerase chain reaction), you can get a signal in water for pink elephants,” Richman was quoted as saying.


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James Comey says it is ‘fair’ for Democrats to blast AG Barr at Mueller hearing

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Former FBI Director James Comey said it would be fair game for Democrats to go after Attorney General Bill Barr during Wednesday's televised hearings with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Barr was highly criticized for releasing a letter summarizing the Mueller findings, which was found to be inaccurate when the redacted report was released.

"I heard from a source today, familiar with Attorney General Barr's thinking, that is nervous about being attacked tomorrow. What sort of exposure does Attorney general Barr have?" MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace asked.

"I don’t think he will be attacked by the witness or witnesses," Comey replied.

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Two teen suspects sought in Canada murders of US-Australian couple

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Police in Canada on Tuesday named two suspects wanted in connection with three murders, including the killings of an American woman and Australian man whose bodies were found in rural British Columbia.

Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, had been reported missing in British Columbia but are now believed to be on the run.

They were last seen in the north of Saskatchewan province, driving a gray Toyota RAV-4, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, told a press conference.

Both suspects are considered to be dangerous, police said in a warning to the public.

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Republican Marsha Blackburn shuts down applause as 9/11 bill vote unfolds in the Senate

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The funding for 9/11 first responders has officially passed the Senate after public outcry and significant lobbying by firefighters, police and others who worked after the Twin Tower attacks. But it was the emotional testimony from comedian Jon Stewart that drew much-needed publicity to the cause.

But as the bill was coming up for a vote, with the assurance it would pass, the gallery erupted with applause, with some senators joining in. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) shut it down quickly.

"Expression of approval is not permitted in the gallery," Blackburn shouted, while banging her gavel. She proceeded to bang her gavel at least 25 times more and repeated again that any expression of approval was not permitted.

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