The first person reportedly cured of the AIDS virus has told CBS News that claims he still has it are false.
Timothy Ray Brown, known as the “Berlin patient,” was living in the city with HIV and leukemia. Chemotherapy treatments were sickening him to the point that he was put into a coma in order to let his body recover from the drugs.
While under, Dr. Gero Huetter of the University of Berlin ordered a blood stem cell transplant for Brown. Huetter had recently read a report saying that 1% of Caucasians have a genetic mutation that makes them HIV-resistant, and found a tissue match for the procedure. After the transplant, Brown was declared cured of both ailments.
Brown, 45, is now living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. In an interview outside the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC where he spoke today, he told Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN that, although he had to undergo a second transplant to fully cure his leukemia, “my HIV was gone after, like, three months after the first transplant…totally eradicated from my body.” According to an earlier story from CBS, Brown’s only ongoing medical condition is impaired speech and motor skills due to neurological damage gained from the treatment; even that is improving.
Yet Steven Yuki of the University of California, San Francisco, isn’t so sure. After testing samples of Brown’s blood cells, he expressed doubts during a June 8 discussion at the International Workshop on HIV and Hepatitis Virus in Sitgates, Spain. “There are some signals of the virus, and we don’t know if they are real or contamination,” Yuki stated. “[A]t this point, we can’t say for sure whether there’s been complete eradication of HIV.” Additionally, ABC News reports that the treatment was too difficult and expensive to make it likely to be used as a widespread cure in and of itself.
That said, the fact that, as ABC puts it, “Timothy Brown is believed to be the only known patient who was once infected with the virus and now potentially no longer is,” has inspired hope that his case could provide the answers needed to develop a viable cure for the disease. During his talk, Brown announced the creation of the Timothy Ray Brown foundation, founded in conjunction with the World AIDS Institute, that he said will be the only one in the world dedicated solely to finding a cure for HIV.