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

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Victoria and Nanaimo

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

Sam Liu, an assistant professor of kinesiology at UVic, has found extroverts, particularly people who are very active and social, are experiencing higher levels of distress throughout the pandemic. (Provided by UVic Photo Services)
University of Victoria study finds extroverts experiencing higher stress levels during pandemic

Degree of extroversion influences individual perception of stress during the pandemic

Police continue to investigate a break-and-enter in this Sidney jewelry store in the 2500-block of Beacon Avenue. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Thieves hit Sidney jewelry store

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP says incident is not part of a larger trend

A rare Short-eared owl was found dead in a Saanich backyard on Oct. 26 and will be sent for a necropsy to find out if it had ingested rat poison. (Photo courtesy Kimberly Adamec)
Rare owl found dead in Saanich yard to be sent for necropsy

Short-eared owl ‘vulnerable’ in B.C., owl advocate says

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91, said plans for a new building will ensure long-term sustainability. (Black Press Media file photo)
Plans for new Legion in Langford include low-cost housing for seniors

Project could be before council in early 2021

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Most Read