Timothy Ray Brown died of cancer, the International AIDS Society (IAS) said on Wednesday.
“For the past six months, Timothy was living with a recurrence of leukemia” which had notably affected his brain, but “had remained immune to the HIV virus,” said the IAS in a statement.
Timothy Ray Brown’s companion had announced a few days earlier that the latter was in the terminal phase. “Timothy is not dying of HIV, let’s be clear,” Tim Hoeffgen told the blog of activist and author Mark King on Tuesday.
Timothy Ray Brown, 54, has written a page in the medical history of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
In 1995, he was living in Berlin when he learned he had been infected with the virus. Then in 2006, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Stem cell transplant
To cure him of leukemia, his doctor at the University of Berlin used a stem cell transplant from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that gave him natural resistance to HIV, in the hope that the transplant cures both diseases.
It took two transplants, heavy and dangerous operations, but the bet succeeded: in 2008, Timothy Ray Brown was cured of both diseases. The initial announcement had preserved his anonymity, designating him as “patient of Berlin”.
In 2010, he agreed to disclose his name publicly, and had since become a public figure, speaking in interviews and conferences.
“I am living proof that there can be a cure for AIDS,” he told AFP in 2012. “It is wonderful to be cured of HIV”.
Since then, only one other remission has been announced, in March 2019, thanks to the same method, in the “patient from London”, who also revealed his identity afterwards, Adam Castillejo, and is now considered cured.
Because of its heaviness and the risks (the recipient’s immune system must first be suppressed by chemotherapy, in order to “replace” it with that of the donor), the stem cell transplant method is not considered a way of treatment, especially today where antiretroviral treatments allow people to live an almost normal life with HIV.