The Berlin Patient

Timothy Brown's story - arguably one of the most followed in the realm of HIV research - began in 1995 when he was diagnosed with HIV while attending school in Berlin. For the next 11 years, doctors treated him with anti-retroviral therapy, to which he responded positively.

In 2006, however, Brown's health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia -- and underwent chemotherapy. While the first round of treatment appeared to work, it also made him more susceptible to infections. Brown developed pneumonia early on in his treatment, and he battled sepsis halfway through his third round of chemo. His doctors realized they would have to try a different approach.

I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

Timothy Ray Brown

the first man cured of HIV, referring to the hazardous treatment he went through in 2007.

Photography courtesy of Dan Winters

Timothy Brown

His oncologist, Dr. Gero Hutter of the Charite Hospital in Berlin, opted to give Brown a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia. But rather than choosing a matched donor, he used the stem cells of a donor he found who had what is known as a CCR5 mutation - a mutation that makes cells immune to the HIV. In results later published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Hutter and his colleagues reported that the transplant not only treated Brown's leukemia but had also eliminated the HIV from his system.

Brown stopped taking his anti-retrovirals the day of the transplant, and said he has never needed them since. However, the drawback of his treatment is that he has endured some neurological damage, among other complications. "There was a period after my transplant when I couldn't even walk," he said.

Brown's stem cell procedure is unlikely to be used as a cure for the millions of others who are infected. Still, the hope that Brown's case could pave the way for a widely-used cure remains. There are several clinical trials currently in progress that investigate bone marrow transplant in the treatment of HIV infection.

In June 2012, Brown announced that the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, in conjunction with the World AIDS Institute, dedicated solely to finding a cure for HIV.