Timothy Ray Brown, known under the pseudonym “The Berlin patient” has died at age 54. In 2007, Brown received a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) according to the BBC.
The successful transplant allowed Brown to go off his antiretroviral (ARV) medication and he remained clear of HIV for the remainder of his life.
Originally from the US, Brown was diagnosed with HIV while living and studying in Berlin in 1995. Brown then developed and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. According to the New York Times, he underwent the bone marrow transplant on February 6, 2007 which he then declared his new birth date.
The treatment essentially entailed destroying Brown’s bone marrow which was producing the cancerous cells. This was then replaced with the donor’s bone marrow. The donor had a rare mutation in their DNA called the CCR5 gene.
This CCR5 gene forms the pathway that HIV moves through to infect other cells. The mutation of this gene blocks this pathway and makes those with it, resistant to HIV. Brown’s treatment was too high risk and expensive to be used as a solution across the world.
Sadly this year, the leukaemia returned and spread to Brown’s spinal cord and brain.
On September 29, in a Facebook post, Brown’s partner Tim Hoeffgen said: “It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away… surrounded by myself and friends, after a five-month battle with leukaemia.”
Hoeffgen continued: “Tim’s absolute favorite thing to do was traveling abroad. We had amazing times with trips to Amsterdam, Berlin, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, and Vancouver.
“Tim particularly enjoyed our trip to Cape Town when he spoke to students at the Desmond Tutu HIV center, and to Amsterdam for the International AIDS Conference in 2018.”
The International Aids Society (IAS) stated that Brown gave hope to the world in that an HIV cure was possible.
Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia said: “Timothy was a champion and advocate for keeping an HIV cure on the political and scientific agenda. It is the hope of the scientific community that one day we can honour his legacy with a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and cure using gene editing or techniques that boost immune control.”
It is with a profoundly heavy heart that the IAS bids farewell to Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of #HIV. Known as the “Berlin Patient”, Timothy was cured in 2008 after undergoing a complex stem cell transplant for lymphoma. Our statement: https://t.co/wcAFwTP7K5 pic.twitter.com/HpIwbp1pcr
— IAS – International AIDS Society (@iasociety) September 30, 2020