Patient No More (interview with Timothy Brown, "the Berlin Patient")

Published: May 9, 2011

Timothy Brown-a.k.a. "the Berlin Patient"-is the Man Who Once Had HIV. Recovered from a deadly form of leukemia and now virus-free, Brown embodies the hopes of scientists and millions of people living with the virus. Brown’s road to a cure is unlikely to be traveled by others. But his journey provides critical proof of a concept that just may lead to the end of AIDS-by offering clues for how to develop a safe, affordable cure for all.

To walk past Timothy Brown on the street, you’d hardly know that his body contains secrets capable of ending one of the worst plagues in recorded human history. But Brown, the man known as “the Berlin Patient,” is arguably scientific proof that we can cure AIDS.
The Berlin Patient is not a German, but rather, an American whose life was saved, ironically, by a German living in America. Brown is a 45-year-old man originally from Seattle who moved to Berlin in 1991. It was in that famed European center of upheaval that he discovered, in 1995, he was living with HIV and where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2006.* Multiple treatments for his AML, including chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants (using cells harvested from the German donor), have allowed him to survive against unthinkable odds—and to be cured of HIV.

Brown might not be alive and he certainly wouldn’t be HIV-free had his path not crossed that of Gero Huetter, MD, a German hematologist at the University Medicine Berlin. Huetter had the foresight, when administering a stem cell transplant to Brown to cure his AML, to try injecting stem cells harvested from a donor who had a certain genetic mutation that made his immune system impervious to HIV. HIV uses the cells of the immune system in its replication process. If it can’t enter the immune cells, it can’t survive. Huetter’s theory was that if you took all the immune cells out of a person living with HIV and replaced them with immune cells that couldn’t be infected with the virus, then HIV could be eradicated.
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