Timothy Ray Brown, 45, from San Francisco Bay Area, is in the news – as the first man cured of HIV- AIDS. “I think so,” he calmly tells his interviewers who ask if he actually is cured.
Brown has been facing cameras, gun mikes and diagnostic kits ever since the publication of a research paper on his unique case in the journal Blood in December 2010.
The researchers led by Kristina Allers and Gero Hutter at Charite University Medicine Berlin documented what can be dubbed as a miracle.
The successful reconstitution of a set of white blood cells that the HIV eats up in Brown’s body is a “very rare” occurrence, they noted.
Brown, who was tested HIV back in 1995 in Germany, was later diagnosed with another disease — leukaemia or blood cancer that involves an abnormal increase in white blood cell.
He was treated with bone marrow stem cell transplant — a cure for blood cancer. The stem cells came from a donor with a rare gene mutation that involves immunity to HIV — again a rare occurrence.
The mechanism involved special white blood cells called CD4+ helper T cells. When a dangerous material like a bacterium or a virus is detected in the body, immune cells immediately stimulate these special cells.
The helper T cells further activate and direct other immune cells to fight the disease. HIV specifically attacks helper T cells, making the body unable to launch a counter offensive against invaders.
Hence, AIDS patients suffer from other lethal infections. The researchers in Berlin showed that after stem cell therapy Brown’s body had reconstitution of CD4+ T cells at a systemic level and specifically in his gut mucosal immune system.
“While the patient remains without any sign of HIV infection,” they wrote. Brown has quit taking his HIV medication. The secret is that if the white cells could be manipulated to a state in which they are no longer infected or infectable by HIV that would mean a functional cure.
Researchers, however, have warned that though the study offers promise, it is not a surefire cure from the dreaded disease — transplants are risky, and this involved a very rare transplant. Brown is a rather lucky man. He said in a recent interview that appeared in the San Francisco media about his cure: “It makes me very happy — very, very happy.”