The first person to be cured of HIV, Timothy Ray Brown — known as the “Berlin Patient” — has died after a battle with cancer, the International Aids Society (IAS) announced this on Wednesday, 30 September.
Timothy Brown made medical history and became a symbol of hope for the tens of millions of people living with the virus that causes AIDS when he was cured more than a decade ago.
He had been living with leukaemia for several months and received hospice care at his home in Palm Springs, California.
“On behalf of all its members… the IAS sends its condolences to Timothy’s partner, Tim, and his family and friends,” said IAS President, Adeeba Kamarulzaman.
“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.”
Brown was diagnosed with HIV while was studying in Berlin in 1995. A decade later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.
In treating his leukaemia, his doctor at the Free University of Berlin used a stem cell transplant from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that gave him natural resistance to HIV, hoping it may wipe out both diseases.
After two painful and dangerous procedures, it was a success: in 2008 Brown was declared free of the two ailments and was initially dubbed “the Berlin Patient” at a medical conference to preserve his anonymity.
Two years down the line, he broke his silence and become a public figure; giving speeches and interviews and starting his own foundation.
“I am living proof that there could be a cure for AIDS,” he said in 2012. “It’s very wonderful, being cured of HIV.”
Ten years after Brown was cured, a second HIV sufferer — dubbed “the London Patient” — was revealed to be in remission 19 months after undergoing a similar procedure.
The patient, Adam Castillejo, is currently HIV-free.
In August, a woman from California was reported to have no traces of HIV despite not using an anti-retroviral treatment.
It is thought she may be the first person to be cured of HIV without undergoing the risky bone marrow treatment.
Sharon Lewin, the president-elect of the IAS and director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, said:
“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 curs using gene edition or techniques that boost immune control.”