The first person recovered from HIV – Timothy Ray Brown – died of cancer.
Mr. Brown, also known as “the Berlin patient”, underwent a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV.
It meant he no longer needed antiviral drugs and was free of the virus, which can lead to AIDS, for the rest of his life.
The International Aids Society said Mr. Brown gave the world hope that a cure for HIV was possible.
Mr. Brown, 54, born in the United States, was diagnosed with HIV while living in Berlin in 1995. Then in 2007 he developed a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia.
His treatment involved destroying his bone marrow, which was producing the cancer cells, and then a bone marrow transplant.
The transfer came from a donor who had a rare mutation in a part of their DNA called the CCR5 gene.
Resistance to HIV
CCR5 is a set of genetic instructions that build the gateway through which the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) travels to infect cells.
Mutations to CCR5 essentially close the door and give people resistance to HIV.
After treatment, Mr. Brown’s blood HIV levels have dropped to undetectable levels and he no longer needs antiretroviral therapy. In fact he was “healed”.
But the leukemia, which led to his HIV treatment, returned earlier this year and has spread to the brain and spinal cord.
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy has died … surrounded by me and my friends, after a five-month battle with leukemia,” his partner Tim Hoeffgen posted on Facebook.
He added, “Tim has committed his life’s work to telling his story about his HIV treatment and has become an ambassador of hope.”
Closer to a cure?
Mr. Brown’s treatment was too risky and aggressive to be used routinely – it remains primarily a cure for cancer. The approach is also too expensive for the 38 million people, many in sub-Saharan Africa, who are thought to be living with HIV infection.
However, Mr. Brown’s story inspired scientists, patients and the world that a cure would eventually be found.
The International Aids Society (IAS) claimed to be in mourning with “a deeply heavy heart”.
“We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hutter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible,” said Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, the IAS president said. .
The second person recovered from HIV was announced earlier this year. Adam Castillejo, known as the London patient, has had similar treatment to Mr Brown and may be discontinuing his HIV medications.
- Second patient recovered from HIV, doctors say
“Although the Timothy and Adam cases are not a viable large-scale strategy for a cure, they represent a critical moment in the search for a cure for HIV,” said Prof Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia. .
“Timothy was a champion and advocate for keeping a cure for HIV on the political and scientific agenda.
“The hope of the scientific community is that one day we can honor its legacy with a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible strategy for achieving HIV remission and treatment using gene editing or techniques that enhance immune control.”
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