Timothy Ray Brown was the first person known to be cured of an HIV infection. On Tuesday, his partner Tim Hoeffgen announced that Brown had died of cancer.
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy has passed away this afternoon,” Hoeffgen wrote on Facebook. “He was surrounded by myself and friends after a five-month battle with leukemia.”
Brown went down in history as “the Berlin patient,” to protect his identity. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 in Berlin, where he lived at the time, but he was an American.
In 2007, in addition to HIV, Brown was diagnosed with leukemia, and his doctor suggested a risky treatment. The German doctor Huetter, who treated Brown, decided to completely destroy his patient’s immune system. Afterwards, stem cells with a CCR5 mutation, which is resistant to HIV, were transplanted.
“I stopped taking my medication the day I got the transplant, after three months there was no more HIV in my body,” he testified to the British BBC in 2012.
This treatment was extremely expensive, risky and complex, not least because very few people have the CCR5 mutation. According to experts, this can never be an effective treatment for other patients, as many would simply risk their lives by undergoing it.
The International AIDS Society did say that Brown gave the world hope, because an HIV cure was indeed possible.
The transplant cured Brown of the leukemia, but the cancer came early this year. The prognosis was poor, he had metastases to the brain and spinal cord. That relapse has now become fatal for him.
In the meantime, a second person has been cured of HIV, Adam Castillejo. He was known as the ‘London patient’ for a long time, until he revealed his identity himself this year. He received treatment similar to Brown and was able to stop taking his HIV medication. More than 37 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus, and the AIDS pandemic has claimed more than 35 million lives since it broke out in the 1980s.
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