The man who stopped showing signs of HIV after being given a bone marrow transplant for stem cells says he's still cured.
Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin Patient," made international and national headlines when it was discovered he was apparently cured of the AIDS virus as a result of the transplant he underwent for the treatment of leukemia.
Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington on Tuesday, Brown said doctors have told him he's "cured of AIDS and will remain cured."
The American had the transplant in February 2007 while a student in Berlin. A year later, his leukemia returned but HIV did not. He had a second transplant in March 2008 from the same donor.
Researchers in California recently found traces of HIV in Brown's tissue, but he said the virus itself is dead and can't replicate. He has debilitating side-effects and scientists continue to test him to try to understand how the treatment worked.
Brown accepts his reputation among the AIDS community as a miracle man with mixed feelings.
"I have a slight sense of guilt, particularly when friends tell me, 'I would like to be cured, too,'" Brown said. "That's hard. Basically that's the reason why I'm fighting for a cure for HIV," he added in announcing a new foundation to fight to cure AIDS.
Preventing false hope
The bone marrow donor had a genetic mutation that provides natural resistance to HIV. An estimated one per cent of Caucasians have the mutation. Brown's oncologist, Dr. Gero Huetter, a blood cancer expert at the University of Berlin, searched for such a person who also was a tissue match.
It's unlikely Brown's experience is transferrable to other patients, cautioned Dr. Mark Wainberg, director of the McGill University AIDS Centre in Montreal.
"What we don't want to do obviously is give anybody false hope," Wainberg said. "So to speak of a cure — next year, or two years or even five years — is probably completely unrealistic."
Efforts to replicate the unique treatment have failed. All the other patients died.
Despite that, Wainberg called Brown a symbol of hope to inspire researchers working towards a cure.