Timothy Ray Brown, First Person to Be Cured of HIV, Dies – The Scientist

Posted: September 30, 2020 at 7:55 pm

Timothy Ray Brown, who became the first HIV patient to be cured of the infection, died September 29 of leukemiathe very disease that led to the fortuitous eradication of the virus from his body. He was 54.

Until he disclosed his identity, Brown was known as the Berlin patient, whose HIV infection was eliminated in 2007 after undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat acute myeloid leukemia. The bone marrow donor was selected to have a naturally occurring genetic variant that blocked HIV from entering cells. The treatment workedboth for his cancer, and his viral infection.

Timothy symbolized that it is possible, under special circumstances to cure HIV, Gero Htter, the doctor who performed the stem cell transplant, tells theAssociated Press.

Until2016, Brown remained the only person in the world to have been cured of AIDS using this approach and his unique experience motivated him to advocate for AIDS research. As he toldThe Scientist in 2015, I didnt want to be the only one in my club.

Brown was born in 1966 and grew up in Seattle. He was living in Berlin when he received the diagnosis of leukemia and sought treatment from Htter. The doctor had previously read about individuals with variants in the CCR5 gene, which codes for a receptor on cell surfaces, that gives themnatural immunity to HIV. Upon finding out that Brown was HIV-positive, Htter decided to look for a bone marrow donor who might have this variant. As Htter explained to The Scientist in 2015, he screened dozens of donors until he found one with the so-called delta32 mutation.

Within months of the transplant, the virus was gone from Browns cells, although his recovery was difficult and he required a second transplant to treat the leukemia.

In 2012, Brown and activist Dave Purdy started the Cure for AIDS Coalition to raise awareness of HIV research. According to aFacebook post by Browns partner, Tim Hoeffgen, Tim committed his lifes work to telling his story about his HIV cure and became an ambassador of hope. Tim also gave numerous blood and tissue samples to researchers after his cure.

The invasiveness of the bone marrow transplant precludes it from being applied more widely to HIV patients, but the insights gained from Browns successful cure have inspired further work on CCR5. For instance, in 2017, researchers used CRISPR to disrupt the gene in human hematopoietic stem cells anddemonstrated that these cells could ward off HIV infection in mice transplanted with them. More recently, andcontroversially, the gene was a target of CRISPR-based editing in human embryos to make them resistant to HIV.

Brown never again tested positive for HIV. His leukemia, however, relapsed five months ago.

Timothy was a champion and advocate for keeping an HIV cure on the political and scientific agenda, Sharon Lewin, the director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, tells theBBC. 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.

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Timothy Ray Brown, First Person to Be Cured of HIV, Dies - The Scientist

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