Timothy Ray Brown, initially introduced to the world as “the Berlin patient” and the first known person whose HIV was cured, died at his California home at age 54 of cancer.
Brown died Tuesday with his friends by his side after battling leukemia for the past five months, his partner Tim Hoeffgen posted on Brown’s Facebook page.
It was Brown’s first bout with cancer in 2007 that inadvertently led to his HIV being cured—he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor that carried the CCR5 gene, a rare genetic mutation that is believed to provide resistance to HIV as part of his leukemia treatment.
After two transplants, doctors found that besides curing his cancer, the treatment appeared to have also eliminated detectable traces of HIV in Brown’s blood, and could stop taking medication that suppressed the virus.
The success of Brown’s treatment was first released to the public in 2008 but kept his identity hidden in line with his wishes, and he was often referred to in media reports as “the Berlin patient.”
In 2010, Brown decided to “come out” as the first person to be cured of the virus to raise awareness for HIV and support the development of new treatments, and became an activist.
While Brown’s HIV never appeared to come back, he was once again diagnosed with cancer this year.
“I did not want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV; I wanted other HIV+ patients to join my club. I want to dedicate my life to supporting research to search for a cure or cures for HIV,” Brown wrote in 2015.
Brown was an American expat living in Berlin when he was first diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. While another man named Adam Castillejo in London was reported to have been cured of his HIV in 2018 with a similar treatment to Brown’s, transplants are typically considered to be too high-risk as an HIV treatment, and donors with the rare genes needed are limited in number. According to U.S. government statistics, an estimated 38 million people were living with HIV or AIDS in 2019. A diagnosis once considered to be a death sentence, medical breakthroughs in new medications and treatments means many people infected with HIV can live healthy lives with virtually no chance of passing on the virus to sexual partners.