June 15, 2011
Timothy Brown did not set out to become a beacon of hope for an end to AIDS, but that is what has happened.
Brown learned he was HIV-positive in 1995. Then in 2006, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent a stem-cell transplant at University Hospital in Berlin, performed by oncologist Gero Huetter and colleagues. Of the 230 possible donor matches for Brown, Huetter deliberately picked one who carried genetic resistance to HIV, with the goal of tackling both Brown's HIV and leukemia.
Brown, known in medical circles as the "Berlin Patient," was the focus of a case study in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2009. Twenty months after Brown's immune system was destroyed by radiation and rebuilt with donated bone marrow, Huetter's team reported they could not detect HIV in his body.
In the 30 years since AIDS was first reported, talk of a cure has been downplayed, even viewed as a distraction from the critical tasks of prevention and treatment. But in a June 7 Annals of Internal Medicine report, Drs. Anthony Fauci and Carl W. Dieffenbach of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases abandoned their reluctance to discuss cures, noting that Brown's case offers proof of concept that the fight against HIV/AIDS can advance beyond daily drug cocktails.
Recently, Brown spoke in San Francisco at an American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) event entitled "Cure -- Still a Four-Letter Word?" "It's an incredible feeling -- like a miracle," Brown said. "I had two lethal diseases and was able to get rid of both of them."