Incurable optimists have very few enemies because by nature we see the best in every person and situation. But false headlines that promise miracle cures might just make the shortlist. We have to be extremely careful to not recklessly buy into them, since, in truth, we’re a bit more susceptible to them than the average reader. So we’re very grateful for headlines that could – maybe- get away with trumpeting not-completely-verified good news, only to take the sober approach.
All that by way of saying: Has a cure for AIDS been found, but news outlets are, for once, trying to be really cautious to not overstate the case? So the common headline is something like “2 HIV-positive patients who underwent bone marrow transplants stopped anti-retroviral therapy and show no sign of the HIV virus.” Well, that’s not blaring the news “AIDS cured” from the rooftops, but it’s still quite incredible.
First, usually going off AIDS medication gives the patient two to four weeks respite before the virus reappears. Here the patients have been drug free for seven and fifteen weeks apiece. Researchers have been burned many times before not just by media outlets mangling the science and the tentative predictions flowing from it. Scientists can chase headlines too.
So, I like the WaPo source that used the expression “proof of concept.” Yes, that sounds about right in terms of validating the research and raising our hopes as a society that desperately seeks a cure to a horrible disease. Even if these two patients are deemed “cured” it would not make much of a difference to the many HIV infected people around the globe – yet. The very existence of a cure would be a huge leap even if it couldn’t be mass produced in the short term future.
For some reason, many of us operate with the intuition that once a great discovery is made, scaling it up or down for normal human consumption is something of an afterthought. Maybe it’s because we take our technology for granted because its so usable. We don’t “look under the hood” as we once did during the era of the Cadillac. And now what’s under the hood is far more complex. Yet the same faith is there: Once we grab a world changing spark, our brightest minds stop at nothing to bring that fire to the person on the street.