London: The first person cured of HIV, Timothy Ray Brown, has died from cancer.
Brown, who was also known as “the Berlin patient“, was given a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV, the BBC reported.
It meant he no longer needed anti-viral drugs and he remained free of the virus, which can lead to AIDS, for the rest of his life.
The International AIDS Society said Brown gave the world hope that an HIV cure was possible.
Brown, 54, who was born in the US, was diagnosed with HIV while he lived in Berlin in 1995. Then in 2007, he developed a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia.
His treatment involved destroying his bone marrow, which was producing the cancerous cells and then having a bone marrow transplant.
The transfer came from a donor who had a rare mutation in part of the DNA called the CCR5 gene.
CCR5 is a set of genetic instructions that build the doorway that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) walks through to infect cells.
Mutations to CCR5 essentially lock the door and give people resistance to HIV.
After the treatment, levels of HIV in Brown’s blood fell to undetectable levels and he no longer needed anti-retroviral therapy. He was in effect “cured“.
But leukemia, which led to his HIV cure, returned earlier this year and spread to his brain and spinal cord.
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away… surrounded by myself and friends, after a five-month battle with leukemia,” his partner Tim Hoeffgen posted on Facebook.
He added: “Tim committed his life’s work to tell his story about his HIV cure and became an ambassador of hope.”
Brown’s cure was too risky and aggressive to be used routinely – it remains principally a cancer treatment. The approach is also too expensive for the 38 million people, many in sub-Saharan Africa, thought to be living with HIV infection.
However, Brown’s story inspired scientists, patients, and the world that a cure could eventually be found.
The International Aids Society (IAS) said it was mourning with “a profoundly heavy heart“.
“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,” said Prof Adeeba Kamarulzaman, the IAS president.