‘The Berlin Patient’ dies of Cancer Relapse

Timothy Ray Brown is thought to be the first patient ever to be cured of HIV infection. Source: Getty Images
  • In 1995, Timothy Ray Brown contracted HIV.
  • Dubbed ‘The Berlin Patient’, Timothy received a unique bone marrow transplant in 2007 and 2008.
  • In 2007, Timothy became the first person cured of HIV

‘The Berlin Patient’ – First Person Cured of HIV

Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the ‘Berlin Patient’, developed Acute Myeloid Leukemia a decade after his HIV diagnosis.

When chemotherapy did not give them the desired results, doctors turned to a bone marrow transplant. However, Dr. Gero Huetter aimed to not only treat Timothy’s cancer but also his HIV, with the unusual transplant.

Timothy’s immune system was destroyed using chemotherapy and radiation to prepare him for the procedure. A process called, conditioning.

Next, he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare gene mutation. The donor had a CCR5 gene mutation that made him resistant to HIV. In 2007, stem cells from the donor were transplanted into Timothy. 

The first transplant managed to cure his HIV but, his cancer remained.

We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hutter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible

Adeeba Kamarulzaman (IAS President)

What is the CCR5 Gene?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) affects approximately 38 million people worldwide. The virus attacks a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infections. Furthermore, it can also lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

The CCR5 gene encodes for a receptor present on white blood cells. HIV uses these receptors to invade the cells and cause havoc on an individual’s immune system.

The gene mutation disables the receptor thus, inhibiting the virus from entering the white blood cells. The CCR5 gene is therefore a popular target of gene therapy for HIV.

However, this rare gene mutation is found more commonly in Europeans. Approximately, 10% of Europeans carry the CCR5 gene mutation. 

Two Transplants Later

In 2008, a second bone marrow transplant from the same donor was planned. The second transplant was ultimately successful in eliminating his leukemia. Following the procedure, the 54-year-old remained in remission for 12 years.

Unfortunately, Timothy suffered a relapse of the cancer last year. Cancer spread to his brain and spine. After a 5-month long battle, Timothy quietly passed away on 29th September 2020. 

Timothy was a champion and advocate for keeping an HIV cure on the political and scientific agenda. It is the hope of the scientific community that one day we can honor his legacy with a safe, cost-effective, and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and cure using gene editing or techniques that boost immune control.

Sharon Lewin, President-Elect of the IAS

Since Timothy, two more patients have been functionally cured of HIV. 

Multiple factors make Timothy’s procedure a highly risky and expensive one. Therefore, experts don’t believe it to be an effective treatment for all HIV patients. Doctors are now looking into gene therapy and drug combinations to combat the illness. 


Kelland, K. (2020, September 30). World’s first patient cured of HIV dies after cancer returns. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-aids-cure-death-idUSKBN26L1AW?taid=5f7481694af5f1000170a290


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here