Timothy Ray Brown, Cured of HIV, Works to Help Others

by Shaun Knittel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 21, 2013

Timothy Ray Brown, the first person ever cured of HIV was in Seattle this week, meeting with scientists working to defeat HIV for good.

The meeting, which took place at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on June 18, was designed for the scientists to actually meet with Brown, 46, in person and learn more about what caused his cure and build on it to find a cure for others. The scientists are working with a $20 million project to cure millions who are still living with the disease.

Brown grew up in Seattle. He moved overseas and received an HIV-positive test result in 1995.

While living in Berlin, Brown was later diagnosed with leukemia. He went through chemotherapy, but it failed to eliminate his cancer. In 2007, he needed a stem cell transplant. His doctor found hundreds of possible matches, but only one who possessed the mutated gene resistant to HIV.

But the transplant was to cure leukemia unrelated to his HIV infection. The German doctors gave Brown a new immune system from a bone marrow donor who is immune to HIV by virtue of a genetic mutation shared by 1 percent of Caucasians. Brown stopped taking his HIV drugs at the time of the transplant. Five years later, he's still free of HIV drugs -- and ostensibly free of HIV.

"So it was kind of weird to hear that a defect was going to cure me of HIV, and it actually did," Brown said. "It's completely gone from my body. I've been poked and prodded from head to toe."

Brown was dubbed "the Berlin patient." He now lives in San Francisco, CA and has made himself endlessly available to researchers who want to learn as much as possible about his amazing cure.

"I didn't think it was possible that a cure was going to happen, but it has happened," said Brown.

Brown is now credited as being the first person to be cured from HIV. On June 20 he gave a speech at Seattle University about his experience and how he inspires scientists in the quest to cure HIV with cell-based therapies.

Guilt Over HIV Cure Leads to Forming Foundation

At "From One to Many: The Cure Agenda for HIV/AIDS at Fred Hutch," Brown said he initially had feelings of guilt of being the only person cured of HIV. "Whether intentional or not, I felt a sense of envy from a couple of my friends who were still HIV-positive."

His decision to start the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation was in part his desire to deal with this sense of guilt.

Brown told The Seattle Lesbian’s Editor, Sarah Toce, "During my time in recovery, I began to realize how amazing my case was in bringing back the desire by the medical scientific community to find a cure for HIV along with other diseases which could benefit from a better understanding of stem cells and how they work. I was encouraged in my college course in 1985 that all diseases would someday be curable through the use of stem cells. I believed that. Once I made the decision to release my name and image to the media, I began traveling in North America and Europe to tell my story and show people that a cure for HIV is possible."

He said he met Dave Purdy and Chad Johnson of the World AIDS Institute in Washington, D.C. in June 2012 and told them that he wanted to step out as a leader to advocate for the cure of HIV.

"We decided together that we would make an announcement during the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. in July 2012. The planning began," said Brown.

Timothy Ray Brown Foundation of the World AIDS Institute HAS started a Cure Coalition in order to allow its followers to get involved in the efforts to promote a cure for HIV.

"We are also looking to support institutes and organizations such as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center which are at the forefront in the search for an HIV cure," he said. "A large sum of donations collected will go directly to the Center. This is the first of several of these sorts of events."

Brown also stuck around to answer questions during a moderated Q&A session. He even addressed questions about whether or not he is really cured.

"Like I’ve said, almost every part of my body has been biopsied, including my brain," said Brown. "My blood has been tested countless times. No researcher has found any living replicable virus anywhere in my body."

Brown continued, "The proof that I have been cured is in that I have never taken any HIV medication since my first transplant February 6, 2007. My T-cell level (CD4 count) has continuously increased to that of a person who never had HIV. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) can verify that I am cured."

The most interesting thing about Brown, aside from being cured, is that he doesn’t want to be known as the "only person" cured from HIV. He hopes there will be millions more. "After all, first does not mean only", he said.

"I am not doing this just to be famous for being the only person to be cured. My message is that I want all HIV-positive people in the entire world to be cured of this disease," said Brown.

"Prior to my cure, the word cure in relation to HIV really was considered a four-letter word," he added. "Afterwards, medical scientists dealing with HIV actually believed that HIV can be cured and are looking for a cure."

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

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