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 cover of the 2021 RASTA calendar. (Photo submitted)
Smashed pumpkins provide a royal Thanksgiving feast for RASTA Sanctuary animals

Substantial community donations to purchase pumpkins surpasses the initial goal

Advance polling begins on Oct. 15, 2020, across B.C. in the 2020 snap election. (Black Press files)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Advance voting begins today in Nanaimo-North Cowichan

Advance voting runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21 in B.C.’s election

The Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates will take part in a virtual candidates forum hosted by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and VIREB (Submitted photo)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan candidates to participate in virtual candidates forum

The forum will be hosted by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce and VIREB on October 19

Nanaimo-Ladysmith families make decisions to send kids to school or keep them learning at home

School district’s transition learning program asking for decision by Nov. 6

Strong winds to gust over Vancouver Island today

Environment Canada issues special weather statement

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

Jordan Naterer, 25, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. He planned a hike in the Manning Park area, and has not been seen since. Photo Facebook.
Family devastated as search for missing Manning Park hiker suspended

‘It was an extremely difficult meeting with the parents when we had to tell them.’

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for NDP candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Alberni. (News Bulletin file photo)
UPDATE: More sailings cancelled after ferry breaks down

Queen of Alberni out of commission, BC Ferries revises schedules

Six Mile Beach outside Nelson is known for its perfect sand, clear water and unique sand spit. But the drowning death of a man in July has residents asking if the dangerous spot has become too popular. Photo: David Grantham/Kootenay Drone Services
Dangerous oasis: The fatal history of a popular Kootenay Lake beach

Six Mile Beach near Nelson is known for its unique sand spit. But locals have feared it for decades

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s snap election means 700k ballots will be counted manually, delaying results

Elections BC spokesman said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam takes part during a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. As parts of Canada face a new round of COVID-19-related restrictions, Canada’s chief public health officer is urging Canadians to continue making a “collective effort” to tackle the pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Chief public health officer calls for continued ‘collective effort’ against COVID-19

Canada continues to climb toward the 200,000 mark for COVID-19 cases

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. Facebook photo.
‘Please pray for our son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Searchers continue efforts to find 25-year-old Vancouver man in Manning Park

Most Read