Yes! Timothy Ray Brown is cured of the human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV. This is the first and only reported case in medical history where someone has been cured of this retrovirus.

Timothy was first tested positive for HIV in 1995 and underwent treatment in 2007 for both leukemia and HIV at a Berlin hospital. Because of the location and success of the cure, he subsequently became known as “the Berlin patient” amongst the scientific and medical community.

Did You Know?
Dr. Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi shared one half of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discovering the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 1983.

HIV is a virus that can attack your white blood cells, compromising your immune system and increasing your susceptibility to other infections and cancers, resulting in what is known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or more commonly, AIDS. HIV is known as the “ultimate evolver” because it can undergo mutations extremely fast and become resistant to drug treatments. Moreover, the virus may be transferred simply by the intake of bodily fluids from an infected host. These properties of the virus make it difficult to manage.

Ironically, one method by which HIV may be overcome is human mutation. While some mutations to our genetic code (DNA) may be lethal, others have allowed us to "adapt" to our environment and overcome pathological conditions.

Did You Know?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 33.3 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009.

Did you know that one percent of Europeans may be resistant to the most common strain of HIV? Usually HIV is able to attach itself to a specific kind of protein found on the surface of blood cells. However, one percent of Europeans have a gene mutation (delta 32) that causes those proteins to be missing the receptor (CCR5) that allows HIV to attach itself to the protein. This protects these people from HIV. So why hasn't 'survival of the fittest' led to more people having this gene? It could be because people who have this mutation are also more at risk of catching the West Nile Virus.

Did You Know?
In Northern Europe, around 10 percent of the population carries at least one copy (allele) of the mutated CCR5 gene (which is known to provide resistance against HIV).

Timothy Brown was treated for HIV and leukemia by Dr. Gero Hutter, a German hematologist, who used bone marrow transplantation from a patient with the delta 32 mutation. Hence, all white blood cells manufactured after the transplant lacked the CCR5 receptor on the surface of cell membranes, preventing HIV-1 binding. The physicians have reported this treatment methodology to be a "functional cure" because all the HIV from Timothy's body has been reportedly eliminated, but it is still too early to conclude if this is a definitive cure. While this is a promising start, this treatment has yet to be tested on other subjects and there are still possibilities for resurgence.

Moreover, undergoing a bone marrow transplant is costly, and finding a donor (especially one with CCR5 delta 32 mutation) proves to be a difficult task. In the future, genetically engineered stem cells that are resistant to different strains of HIV can be a potential cure but for now the best methodology to deal with the virus is prevention.

Learn More!

HIV: The Ultimate Evolver

HIV Science

A Doctor, a Mutation and a Potential Cure for AIDS

Bone Marrow Transplant May Have Cured AIDS Patient

References:

Transplantation of selected or transgenic blood stem cells–a future treatment for HIV/AIDS? By Gero Hutter et al.

CCR5 thwarts West Nile virus

Official Website of the Nobel Prize

Article first published August 18, 2011

Gokul Rajan

Gokul lives in New Delhi, India. He is a Masters Student in the Department of Biosciences & Bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)- Bombay. Apart from Science, he enjoys travelling, reading and music. He is an athlete too, and loves cycling and running



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