The first person to ever be cured of HIV has died.
Berlin HIV patient #TimothyRayBrown was given a bone marrow transplant back in 2007 from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV, BBC reports. After the operation, Brown no longer needed anti-viral drugs, and he remained clear of the virus.
Brown, a U.S. native, was diagnosed with HIV while living in Berlin in 1995. In 2007, he developed a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia. The treatment destroyed his bone marrow, which was producing the cancerous cells, which prompted the bone marrow transplant. The donor’s transplant contained a rare mutation in part of their DNA called the CCR5 gene. CCR5 is a set of genetic instructions that build a pathway that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can easily get through to infect cells, BBC reports. Mutations to CCR5 block the doorway and gives people resistance to HIV.
“I quit taking my medication on the day that I got the transplant, after three months there was no HIV any more in my body,” Brown told BBC in 2012. He was then labeled as being “cure(d).” The virus was never detected in his body after that. “I was excited about it, but I still kind of feared it might come back, but it didn’t,” he added. Earlier this year, the leukemia that inadvertently cured his HIV ended up coming back, spreading to his brain and spinal cord.
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away… surrounded by myself and friends, after a five-month battle with leukemia,” his partner Tim Hoeffgen posted on Facebook, BBC reports. “Tim committed his life’s work to telling his story about his HIV cure and became an ambassador of hope.”
Brown’s journey has now encouraged scientists and patients who are in hopes of finding a cure. “We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hutter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible,” said Prof Adeeba Kamarulzaman, the IAS president said.