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Timothy Ray Brown, first man cured of HIV, has died of cancer

New HIV breakthrough may lead to cure
New HIV breakthrough may lead to cure 09:09

Timothy Ray Brown, who made history as the first person known to be cured of HIV infection, has died from cancer at 54, The Associated Press reports. Brown died on Tuesday, his partner Tim Hoeffgen announced in a social media post.

Brown was known as the "Berlin patient" because he had been living in the German city with both HIV and leukemia when he received the treatment that apparently cured him.

While receiving chemotherapy for his cancer in 2007 and 2008, Brown became so sick he was put into a coma. Doctors weren't even sure he would survive. So, Brown underwent stem cell transplants from a donor who was immune to HIV, in hopes of curing his cancer. Doctors declared Brown "cured" in 2008, not long after his blood stem cell transplant.

In 2011, reporter Hank Plante with CBS San Francisco reported on the progress of Brown's treatment. Brown said being the first man to be cured of HIV made him very happy.

Dr. Jay Levy, a co-discoverer of the HIV virus, explained the treatment that lead to Brown's cure. "If you're able to take the white cells from someone and manipulate them so they're no longer infectable by HIV, and those white cells become the whole immune system of that individual, you've got essentially what we call a functional cure," Dr. Levy said, Plante reported.

Brown said in 2011 he had stopped taking his HIV medication the day he received the transplant and had not taken any since. 

The cause of Brown's death was a return of the cancer that originally prompted the unusual treatment that cured him of HIV, the AP reported.

Dr. Gero Huetter, the Berlin physician who led Brown's historic treatment, called his death, "a very sad situation," because he still seemed free of HIV.

Huetter, who is now medical director of a stem cell company in Dresden, Germany, said "Timothy symbolized that it is possible, under special circumstances," to rid a patient of the virus, according to the AP. 

In a statement on Brown's death Wednesday, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), said: "We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hütter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible."

While the transplant treatment also "cured" another man known as the London patient, the exact method is not one that's going to be widely available to the nearly 38 million people worldwide living with the virus, experts say, according to HealthDay. 

The Berlin and London patients benefited from a combination of medical and genetic chance, the experts explained. While the method of treatment was effective, both could have easily been killed by it.

Last year, researchers eliminated HIV from mice using gene editing, marking the first time it was eradicated from the genomes of living animals, according to the study's authors. Researchers used both CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing system and a drug regimen called long-acting slow-effective release (LASER) ART. The mice were treated with LASER ART and then with CRISPR-Cas9, which eliminated HIV DNA from about one-third of the mice. Research, however, might not have the same results in humans, HealthDay reported.

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