The Berlin Patient
Timothy Brown would not be alive and would not be HIV-free had he not come in contact with Gero Huetter, MD, a German hematologist at the University Medicine Berlin. Huetter had the foresight, when administering a stem cell transplant to Brown to cure his AML, to try injecting stem cells harvested from a donor who had a certain genetic mutation that made his immune system impervious to HIV. HIV uses the cells of the immune system in its replication process. If it can't enter the immune cells, it can't survive. Huetter's theory was that if you took all the immune cells out of a person living with HIV and replace them with immune cells that couldn't be infected with the virus, then the HIV could be terminated.
Huetter was right; Brown is the first person to have HIV cleared from his body. The process cannot be universally applied, Brown's case taught scientists much about how HIV works and how to produce a similar outcome without the risks of stem cell transplant.
Brown also wants the world to know that what he went through, and is still recovering from, is not something to be taken lightly. A stem cell transplant like Brown's presents many challenges: finding the right donor, a $250,000+ price tag and the possibility of massive infection-and death. Brown paid the price for his survival with physical and emotional stress and some enduring side effects.
This is the first time a process like this has been attempted. Brown has very little to lose by being a guinea pig. While he might not survive the process, he certainly would not have survived without it. Brown recalls the decision that he had to make concerning the ordeal. Brown said, "I wasn't really worried about my HIV. I was worried about the cancer." He didn't know that his survival could be linked to that of tens of millions of others.
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