FILE - This May 16, 2011 photo shows Timothy Ray Brown with his dog, Jack, on Treasure Island in San Francisco. Brown, who was known for years as the Berlin patient, had a transplant in Germany from a donor with natural resistance to the AIDS virus. It was thought to have cured Brown’s leukemia and HIV. But in an interview Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, Brown said his cancer returned last year and has spread widely. His case has inspired scientists to seek more practical ways to try to cure the disease. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

FILE - This May 16, 2011 photo shows Timothy Ray Brown with his dog, Jack, on Treasure Island in San Francisco. Brown, who was known for years as the Berlin patient, had a transplant in Germany from a donor with natural resistance to the AIDS virus. It was thought to have cured Brown’s leukemia and HIV. But in an interview Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, Brown said his cancer returned last year and has spread widely. His case has inspired scientists to seek more practical ways to try to cure the disease. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

First man cured of HIV infection now has terminal cancer

Brown’s first transplant in 2007 was followed by a second in 2008

Timothy Ray Brown, the first person known to have been cured of HIV infection, says he is now terminally ill from a recurrence of the cancer that prompted his historic treatment 12 years ago.

Brown, dubbed “the Berlin patient” because of where he lived at the time, had a transplant from a donor with a rare, natural resistance to the AIDS virus. For years, that was thought to have cured his leukemia and his HIV infection, and he still shows no signs of HIV.

But in an interview with The Associated Press, Brown said his cancer returned last year and has spread widely. He’s receiving hospice care where he now lives in Palm Springs, California.

“I’m still glad that I had it,” Brown said of his transplant.

“It opened up doors that weren’t there before” and inspired scientists to work harder to find a cure, which many had begun to think was not possible, the 54-year-old said Thursday.

“Timothy proved that HIV can be cured, but that’s not what inspires me about him,” said Dr. Steven Deeks, an AIDS specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who has worked with Brown to further research toward a cure.

“We took pieces of his gut, we took pieces of his lymph nodes. Every time he was asked to do something, he showed up with amazing grace,” Deeks said.

Brown was an American working as a translator in Berlin in the 1990s when he learned he had HIV. In 2006, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Dr. Gero Huetter, a blood cancer expert at the University of Berlin, believed that a marrow transplant was Brown’s best chance of beating the leukemia. He wondered, could he also cure Brown’s other life-threatening disease by using a donor with a gene mutation that provides natural resistance to the AIDS virus?

Donors like these are very rare and transplants are risky. Doctors have to destroy the patient’s diseased immune system with chemotherapy and radiation, then transplant the donor’s cells and hope they develop into a new immune system for the recipient.

Brown’s first transplant in 2007 was only partly successful: His HIV seemed to be gone but his leukemia was not. He had a second transplant from the same donor in March 2008 and that one seemed to work.

Since then, Brown has repeatedly tested negative for HIV and has frequently appeared at AIDS conferences where cure research is discussed.

“He’s been like an ambassador of hope,” said Brown’s partner, Tim Hoeffgen.

A second man, Adam Castillejo — called “the London patient” until he revealed his identity earlier this year — also is believed to have been cured by a transplant similar to Brown’s in 2016.

But 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 favourable gene mutation without having to do a transplant. At an AIDS conference in July, researchers said they may have achieved a long-term remission in a Brazil man by using a powerful combination of drugs meant to flush dormant HIV from his body.

Mark King, a Baltimore man who writes a blog for people with HIV, said he spoke with Brown earlier this week and is grateful for what Brown has contributed to AIDS research.

“It is unfathomable what value he has been to the world as a subject of science. And yet this is also a human being who is a kind, humble guy who certainly never asked for the spotlight,” King said. “I think the world of him.”

Marilynn Marchione, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

HIV/AIDS

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Most Read