Timothy Ray Brown, who made history as “the Berlin patient”, the first person known to be cured of HIV infection, has died. He was 54 years old.
Brown died Tuesday at his home in Palm Springs, California, according to a social media post from his partner, Tim Hoeffgen. The cause was a reappearance of the cancer that originally resulted in the unusual bone marrow and stem cell transplants Brown received in 2007 and 2008, which for years seemed to have eliminated both leukemia and HIV, the virus that causes cancer. ‘AIDS.
“Timothy symbolized that it is possible, under special circumstances,”
“It is a very sad situation” that the cancer has returned and taken his own life, because he still seemed free of HIV, said Huetter, who is now the medical director of a stem cell company in Dresden, Germany.
The International AIDS Society, which had spoken with Brown at an AIDS conference following his successful treatment, released a grieving statement on his death and said he and Huetter owed “great gratitude” for having promoted research on a cure.
Brown was working in Berlin as a translator when he was diagnosed with HIV and then later with leukemia. Transplants are known to be an effective treatment for blood cancer, but Huetter wanted to try to treat HIV infection as well by using a donor with a rare genetic mutation that confers natural resistance to the AIDS virus.
Brown’s first transplant in 2007 was only partially successful: his HIV seemed to be gone but his leukemia was not. He had a second transplant from the same donor in 2008 and that seemed to be working.
But his cancer returned last year, Brown said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
“I’m still glad I got it,” he said of his transplant.
“It opened doors that weren’t there before,” and inspired scientists to work harder to find a cure, Brown said.
A second man, Adam Castillejo – called “the London patient” until he revealed his identity earlier this year, is also believed to have been treated for a transplant similar to Brown’s in 2016.
Because such donors are rare and transplants are medically risky, the researchers tested gene therapy and other ways to try to achieve a similar effect. At an AIDS conference in July, researchers claimed they had achieved long-term remission in a Brazilian man by using a powerful combination of drugs designed to eliminate dormant HIV from his body.
Mark King, a Baltimore man who writes a blogBrown said “he was just a magnet for people living with HIV, like me,” and embodied the hope of a cure.
“He said from the start, ‘I don’t want to be the only one. They have to keep working on this,” King said.