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Cakes, candles and a cure for all
It might strike you odd that someone would celebrate being HIV free. Perhaps more understandable though if that person had once been diagnosed HIV-positive. To date, Timothy Ray Brown (aka the Berlin Patient) is the only person to have been cured of HIV. Before blowing out candles on a specially made cake, Brown said: “It happened, and it was a hard survival. But I’m here.” Around him a group of researchers, activists and people living with HIV cheered. The celebration was held in Seattle, Boston, at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).
Unable to attend the conference, Gero Hutter, the German doctor who cured Brown, sent a videotaped message explaining the significance of the event. “Timothy’s case, as a proof of principal, has changed a lot in the field of HIV research,” said Hutter. “Timothy is the motivation for hundreds of researchers and activists to go forward to the big target that HIV/AIDS can be cured.”
Brown was diagnosed HIV-positive in Berlin, Germany in 1995. A year later, with the arrival of antiretroviral therapy, he commenced treatment. Then, in 2006 Brown was diagnosed with leukaemia. After chemotherapy failed, Dr Hutter suggested a stem-cell transplant. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Hutter used a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV. The procedure very nearly didn’t happen with Brown initially refusing to be a “guinea pig” for what would be a world-first operation. In the event, the transplant went ahead on 7 February 2007. Brown stopped taking HIV treatment on the same day; three months later HIV was no longer found in his blood.
Ten years on, Brown’s case continues to inspire cure research. As for the man himself, he has embraced his role as a symbol of hope and the search for a universal cure has become a life-long mission. “I know in my heart and soul that I will not be the only one cured of AIDS,” said Brown. “We are committed to helping end this dreaded disease once and for all.”