Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV, also known as the “Berlin Patient” – has died after a battle with cancer, the International Aids Society (IAS) announced yesterday, Wednesday.
Brown had become a beacon of hope for the tens of millions of people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) when he was cured about a decade ago. He had been living with a recurrence of leukemia for several months and received hospice care at his home in Palm Springs, California.
Born on March 11, 1966 in Seattle Washington, Timothy was raised by his single mother, Sharon, who worked for the King County Sherrif’s department. He was diagnosed with HIV at 29, in 1995 while studying in Berlin which he lived with for 11 years before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2006. On February 7, 2007 a team of octors in Berlin led including Doctor Gero Hütter, carried out a procedure known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantaion on him to treat leukemia.
Life battling sickness
A [CCR5]-△32 homozygous donor, an individual with two genetic copies of a rare variant of a cell surface receptor, a genetic trait that confers resistance to HIV infection by blocking attachment of HIV to the cell, was selected from about 60 matching donors. The transplant was repeated a year later after a leukemia relapse and over three years after the initial transplant, researchers could not detect AHIV in Brown’s blood or in various biopsies despite discontinuing antiretroviral therapy. The levels of HIV-specific antibodies in Timothy Brown’s body also declined, which indicated that functional HIV may have been eliminated from his body much as various researchers that were studying his case warned that this remission of HIV infection is unusual.
The “Berlin patient”, as he was known suffered from serious transplant complications, graft-versus-host disease and leukoencephalopathy, which led researchers to conclude that the procedure should not be performed on others with HIV, much as another man called the “The London Patient” who identified himself as Adam Castillejo was cured of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As of 2017, six more people also appear to have been cleared of HIV after getting graft-versus-host disease; only one of them had received CCR5 mutant stem cells, leading researchers to conclude that when a transplant recipient has graft-versus-host disease, the transplanted cells may kill off the host’s HIV-infected immune cells.
In July 2012, Brown announced the formation of the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation in Washington DC a foundation dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. Last month Brown revealed that the leukemia that prompted his historic treatment had returned in 2019 and that he was terminally ill. He later entered hospice care in Palm Springs, California, where he died on September 29, 2020 at 54.