The first ever man cured of HIV, Timothy Brown was living with HIV when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He received a blood stem cell transplant using a donor with a rare HIV resistant gene. Today he is HIV negative.
Hoax or Fact:
Fact with some missing information.
This is a message often shared as a great hope for people with HIV. It talks about the case of Timothy Brown, who is said to be the first ever man cured of HIV. The story is a fact with some missing information.
HIV Story of Timothy Ray Brown
Timothy Ray Brown, famously known as the Berlin patient, is a translator of German, originally from Seattle, Washington. Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 when he was around the age of 30 and he began antiretroviral therapy, living in Berlin. In 2006, Timothy Brown was also diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. He had to go through chemotherapy, but unfortunately, the leukemia came back.
Following this, Brown's physician at Charité Hospital in Berlin, Dr. Gero Hütter arranged a hematopoietic stem cell transplant from a donor with the CCR5 delta 32 mutation that is naturally resistant to HIV. The delta 32 mutation disables CCR5, which is a receptor on the surface of immune-system cells that in the vast majority of cases, is HIV’s path inside. In other words, majority of HIV cannot enter a human cell without a functional CCR5 gene. This way Timothy received two stem cell transplants from one donor homozygous for the delta 32 mutation: one in 2007 and one in 2008. The treatment knocked out Brown's cancer and transferred the genetic variation to his immune system, because of which he could remain off his HIV antiretroviral therapy. The results of Timothy Brown's HIV case were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Is Timothy Brown Cured of HIV?
As you can see in the video, at the International AIDS conference in Washington, D.C in July 2012, the Berlin patient Timothy Brown said he had been off anti-retrovirals for five years, and was doing well. Brown said he is HIV-negative and still free of the virus that causes AIDS. He created the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation to fund HIV cure research. Timothy Brown is thought to be the only person cured of HIV. However, on 8 June 2012, at the International Workshop on HIV and Hepatitis Virus in Sitges, Spain, couple of scientists who had tested Brown's samples, expressed doubts. One of them, Steven Yuki said, "There are some signals of the virus, and we don't know if they are real or contamination, and at this point, we can't say for sure whether there's been complete eradication of HIV". However, Mr. Timothy Brown and his doctors dismissed the findings saying whatever traces of HIV remained were dead.
In somewhat similar cases, two Sydney patients have ‘‘cleared’’ HIV after having bone marrow transplants to treat cancer. The pair aged 47 and 53 received bone marrow transplants to treat lymphoma and leukemia three and four years ago. Significantly, they did not receive transplants from donors with two copies of a rare gene that protects less than 1 per cent of the population from HIV. One of the Sydney patients received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with one of two possible copies of the protective gene mutation, while the other patient received one from a donor with no copies of it. Professor Cooper, who is studying the Sydney patients, said "We’re so pleased that both patients are doing reasonably well."
In all these cases trying to treat and cure the deadly HIV, there are concerns that any residual virus might hide in patients' bodies, and the disease can return. So these patients are continually studied for HIV cure.
Hope for HIV Cure?
As of this writing, Timothy Brown is believed to be the only known patient who was once infected with the virus and now potentially no longer is. However, Brown's stem cell procedure was so difficult and expensive that many people agree it is unlikely that it will be used as a way to cure HIV for the millions of others who are infected. Doctors say that the specific case -- using a bone marrow transplant from an immune person -- is an unlikely source of the cure. Bone marrow transplants can be risky and are still mainly used as a last resort for patients suffering with cancer. Moreover, very few people are naturally immune to HIV, making donor cells hard to come by. Even Professor Cooper, who is studying the Sydney patients, said bone marrow transplants kill more than 10 per cent of the recipients, making it an impractical method for treating/curing HIV.
Despite these complexities in treating and curing HIV, the cases of Timothy Brown and others have provided the opportunity for scientists to examine why and how the transplants appear to eliminate the virus. It will pave way to search and find a process that mimics this functional therapy and fight the dreadful disease in a safe and effective way.