By Dylan Adams
Timothy Ray Brown, the first known person to be cured of HIV, died on Sept. 29 at age 54 after battling cancer.
Timothy Ray Brown, a figurehead in the AIDS and HIV community, passed away surrounded by friends after a five-month battle with leukemia, stated Tim Hoeffgen, Brown’s partner.
Brown received a positive HIV diagnosis in 1995 while studying in Berlin.
In 2006, Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which is a cancer that builds in the bone marrow and blood interfering with blood cell production. After bouts of infections from several rough rounds of chemotherapy, Brown’s leukemia came out of remission.
Due to leukemia in his bones, Brown required a stem cell transplant, a process that allows healthy stem cells to be introduced into a host to stimulate the immune system and healthy bone marrow growth. At the time, the survival rates for stem cell transplant were around fifty percent.
Doctors found a match to Brown’s genetic type, a donor with the CCR5 Delta 32 mutation, a protein that acts as a doorway to stop the HIV from infecting new cells. Three months after Brown stopped taking his HIV medication, doctors found he no longer had HIV in his blood.
After another round of stem cell treatment in February of 2008, Brown went through several near-death complications, almost going blind and becoming paralyzed but slowly recovering. His body was still successfully fighting off HIV.
In July 2012, the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation was created during the World AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. This foundation was built for Brown to show his support and work with medical institutions and scientists to develop a unifying cure and vaccination against HIV.
Brown would often donate large amounts of blood and tissue samples to researchers in the hope of progressing closer towards an HIV cure. According to his partner, Hoeffgen, Tim’s lifework was to tell his story about his HIV cure and become an ambassador of hope to those in need.
Doctors have since used Brown as a blueprint to work on a potential cure and vaccine for HIV. Most notably for the second person to ever be cured of HIV – the “London Patient,” Adam Castillejo – who went through similar stem cell transplants in 2019 before coming forward to the public.