HIV Cure Is Closer As Patient's Full Recovery Inspires New Research

Posted: July 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Richard Knox/NPR

Timothy Ray Brown, widely known in research circles as the Berlin patient, was cured of his HIV infection by a bone marrow transplant, doctors say. His story inspired scientists to look for new ways to vanquish the disease in other patients.

Ask AIDS researchers why they think a cure to the disease is possible and the first response is "the Berlin patient."

That patient is a wiry, 46-year-old American from Seattle named Timothy Ray Brown. He got a bone marrow transplant five years ago when he was living in Berlin.

Brown, who now lives in San Francisco, is something of a rock star in the AIDS community. He has made himself endlessly available to researchers, who regularly bleed and biopsy him to learn as much as possible about his amazing cure.

"I have sort of a guilt feeling about being the only person in the world who's been cured so far," Brown said in an interview with NPR. "I'd like to dispel that guilt feeling by making sure that other people are cured."

The transplant was to cure leukemia unrelated to his HIV infection. The German doctors gave Brown a new immune system from a bone marrow donor who is immune to HIV by virtue of a genetic mutation shared by 1 percent of Caucasians.

Brown stopped taking his HIV drugs at the time of the transplant. Five years later, he's still free of HIV drugs and apparently free of HIV. And he's still the only person to be cured of HIV, doctors say, although everyone acknowledges that bone marrow transplantation is not something that could be used routinely for this purpose.

Dr. Steven Deeks at San Francisco General Hospital is following Timothy Brown closely. He's an organizer of a two-day symposium on curing HIV this week in advance of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

Until recently, Deeks says, it was virtually taboo to use "HIV" and "cure" in the same sentence.

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HIV Cure Is Closer As Patient's Full Recovery Inspires New Research

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