By: Katherine Lewis
In 2007, a German doctor declared that the “Berlin Patient”, later identified as Timothy Ray Brown, had been cured of HIV following a bone marrow transplant intended to cure his cancer. Brown’s case was extremely unique because he had been treated with chemotherapy and later received marrow from a donor with a mutation in the CCR5 protein, which is what HIV uses to enter immune cells. Because of this donation, the donor was immune to HIV, and, after months of complications and immunosuppressive drugs (which were more intense than those permitted today), Brown’s immune system was effectively reconstructed with the new immune cells. Following this success, however, doctors were unable to replicate these results in other cancer patients infected with HIV- until now, that is.
In March of 2019, a man known as the “London Patient” was declared cured of HIV in a similar manner. This man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and also received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with the CCR5 mutation. While Brown nearly died as a result of his treatments following the transplant, the London Patient suffered from far fewer complications post-treatment. While bone marrow transplants and replacing one’s immune cells with donor cells resistant to the virus are not widely considered a viable treatment option for HIV, the London Patient’s case proves that Brown’s cure is replicable and may pave the way to new treatment options in the future.
In light of this announcement, Michael Barbaro of The New York Times’s The Daily interviewed Peter Staley, who is a longtime AIDS activist. In the podcast, which is available here, they discuss the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US along with Staley’s personal story as an activist and HIV-patient himself.