Timothy Ray Brown, first person cured of HIV, shared his life for common good

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The Berlin patient has died of cancer

Timothy Ray Brown, third from left, at a June 21, 2012 Capitol Hill briefing on HIV cure research

Timothy Ray Brown had been telling his story for a couple of years when he first was covered in Science Speaks, but still he told it with a sense of wonder at his good fortune.

On the face of it, that good fortune could have been hard to appreciate among the trials he had faced. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 — a year before the advent of treatment that would make the virus survivable — and then diagnosed with leukemia a decade later. He underwent three rounds of chemotherapy, before, as a last ditch resort, two bone marrow transplants. He faced and survived the repeated ordeals, he said, because he wanted to live. By the time all of that was over, he was not only in remission from leukemia, he was cured of HIV. But the cure had been more harrowing, more torturous by far, and left him more damaged, than the disease.

Initially known as “the Berlin patient,” he identified himself, and began to share his story. His good fortune, he made clear, as he told it, and as he continued to make himself available to researchers over the years that followed, was the opportunity he had had to be part of something much larger than himself. Proving that HIV could be cured had moved a critical question forward.

The last time Science Speaks saw Timothy Ray Brown was at a Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in 2019, in a crowded room where it was announced the number of people cured of HIV had doubled, with the case of a man then known as the London Patient. He was recognized in the audience there, and the members of communities his life had advanced, doctors, scientists, people living with HIV rose to thank him with a round of applause.

He died Tuesday, having given, inspired and survived beyond expectations, at 54.

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