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Timothy Ray Brown (1966–2020), first person cured of HIV infection

by Linnea Crowther

Timothy Ray Brown was known as the “Berlin patient,” the first person who was known to have been cured of HIV infection.

Making medical history

Brown was working as a translator in Berlin in the 1990s when he was diagnosed with HIV. He took protease inhibitors, allowing him to have a near normal life expectancy, but in 2006, he was also diagnosed with leukemia. Dr. Gero Hütter pioneered an experimental treatment intended to cure both Brown’s leukemia and his HIV. The treatment used bone marrow and stem cell transplants, which are known to be effective against leukemia. But Hütter sought to treat Brown’s HIV simultaneously by choosing a transplant donor with a rare gene mutation that offers HIV resistance. Brown’s first transplant, in 2007, appeared to cure his HIV, though it didn’t entirely cure his leukemia. A second transplant in 2008 also eliminated the leukemia.

When the results of the treatment were announced in 2008, Brown was dubbed the “Berlin patient” to preserve his anonymity, but he chose to go public in 2010 to bring attention to the science behind his treatment in hopes that others could be cured. In 2019, another person was cured of HIV using a similar method, offering inspiration to researchers and hope to others living with HIV. Brown’s leukemia returned last year, though Hütter said he still showed no signs of the HIV having returned.

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Brown on his historic transplant

“I’m still glad that I had it. It opened up doors that weren’t there before.” —from a 2020 interview with the Associated Press

Tributes to Timothy Ray Brown

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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