Timothy Ray Brown receives palliative care for leukemia more than a decade after undergoing a historic procedure
Timothy Ray Brown, considered the first person to be cured of HIV infection, now faces terminal leukemia. Also known as “Berlin patient”, in reference to the city where he lived, he received a transplant from a donor with natural resistance to the AIDS virus about 12 years ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Brown reported that cancer came back in the last year and more aggressively. Now 54, he lives in Palm Springs, California, where he receives palliative care.
“I am still happy to have done it,” he says of the historic transplant. “It opened doors that did not exist before” and inspired scientists to work harder to find a cure, which many began to think was not possible, he says.
“Timothy proved that HIV can be cured, but that’s not what inspires me about it,” says Steven Deeks, an AIDS expert at the University of California, who worked with Brown on research for the cure. “We take pieces of your intestine, we take pieces of your lymph nodes. Every time he was asked to do something, he appeared with incredible grace. ”
Brown was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. At the time, physician Gero Huetter, a specialist in blood cancer at the University of Berlin, argued that a bone marrow transplant was the best chance for the patient to survive and proposed using the procedure also to try to cure it. HIV, with the participation of a donor with a rare genetic mutation that provides natural resistance to the AIDS virus.
In this type of procedure, doctors need to destroy the patient’s sick immune system with chemotherapy and radiation, then transplant the donor cells and wait for them to develop into a new immune system for the recipient. Brown’s first transplant took place in 2007, but it was only partially successful, as the HIV virus disappeared, but leukemia remained.
He had a second transplant from the same donor in March 2008. Since then, he has tested negative for HIV repeatedly and has appeared frequently at AIDS conferences, where cure research is discussed.
“He’s been like an ambassador for hope,” said Brown’s partner Tim Hoeffgen. A second man, Adam Castillejo, called a “London patient ” would also have been cured by a similar transplant in 2016.
Donors like these are scarce and the procedure is too risky to be widely used. Scientists have been testing gene therapy and other ways to try to get the effect of the favorable gene mutation without having to have a transplant.
At a conference in July, researchers said they may have achieved long-term remission in a man in Brazil using a powerful combination of drugs designed to release HIV from his body.