Can we really find a cure for AIDS? That is the question people are asking after hearing about Timothy Ray Brown, and the two other people who have been “cured.” What does it actually mean to be cured of AIDS?
AIDS is a virus and to be cured you need to kill the virus and stop it from replicating in the body. We haven’t found the miracle drug that will do that and the scientific community is focused on drugs that are turning AIDS into a chronic illness and continuing to look for a vaccine that will prevent it like the vaccines we take to prevent measles and polio.
During the International AIDS Conference, the World AIDS Institute held a news conference to introduce Timothy Ray Brown to the United States. Timothy is a frail looking man who has survived more medical issues than any one person should have to face in a lifetime. He is an American who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS while attending school in Berlin in 1995. Thanks to that country’s Universal Health Care system, he was given new medications as they came on the market and believed with these pills he could most likely live a long life even with all the side effects they caused.
Then in 2006 Timothy was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy. Although chemo put his leukemia in remission, it returned. By that time his doctors heard about studies being done on something called the CCR5 receptor. It seems that receptor in our bodies is what allows HIV to attach to the T-cell, infect it and spread the disease. The research seemed to show that people without the CCR5 receptor were resistant to HIV infection. It is very rare to find people without the receptor.
When it was clear that Timothy would need a stem cell transplant to fight his leukemia he was lucky and his doctors in Germany who knew of this research were willing to look for a donor who could accomplish two things. The first was to fight his leukemia and the second was to find a donor without the CCR5 receptor to potentially fight his AIDS at the same time. They found such a donor. He had his stem cell transplant and it worked. His leukemia was again in remission and his body was free of AIDS. While his leukemia returned and he underwent another stem cell transplant from the original donor, which nearly destroyed his body (he is still slowly recovering from that) it is now more than five years since his first stem cell transplant and he is still free of HIV/AIDS. He took his last HIV medications on the day of his first stem cell transplant.
Timothy was called the “Berlin Patient” because he didn’t want his name known and didn’t want to be a public figure. But after one of his doctors inadvertently disclosed his name to the media, Timothy decided that he could make a difference and give hope to people with HIV/AIDS if he went public with his story.
So while he has spoken in Europe and been an inspiration to many last week, Timothy — with the help of two other amazing men — held his first news conference in the United States. David Purdy, the CEO of the World AIDS Institute who is successfully fighting his own battle with HIV, and Chad Johnson, its co-founder, COO and general counsel, helped Timothy announce the formation of the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation dedicated to finding a “cure” for AIDS.
Currently only 3 percent of the money going into research is dedicated to looking for a cure. Timothy wants to change that and to fund research to find a cure giving hope to the millions infected with HIV/AIDS.
You can’t help but be inspired by this man who is willing to share his life to give hope to others. Let’s hope he can raise money through his foundation and give impetus to others to ensure that while we look to find a vaccine to prevent AIDS and drugs that make it possible to live with HIV/AIDS we also focus attention on finding a cure. Timothy said his dream is not to be the man who stands before you and says, “I am cured” but to be the man who stands before you and says “We are cured.”