Doctors Say Stem Cell Treatment Eradicates HIV in Berlin Patient


Timothy Brown, a US expat living in Berlin, is said to have been cured of HIV infection via genetically-engineered stem cells, according to reports from doctors, writes AIDSMAP:

Doctors who carried out a stem cell transplant on an HIV-infected man with leukaemia in 2007 say they now believe the man to have been cured of HIV infection as a result of the treatment, which introduced stem cells which happened to be resistant to HIV infection.

The man received bone marrow from a donor who had natural resistance to HIV infection; this was due to a genetic profile which led to the CCR5 co-receptor being absent from his cells. The most common variety of HIV uses CCR5 as its ‘docking station’, attaching to it in order to enter and infect CD4 cells, and people with this mutation are almost completely protected against infection.

The case was first reported at the 2008 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, and Berlin doctors subsequently published a detailed case history in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2009.

They have now published a follow-up report in the journal Blood, arguing that based on the results of extensive tests, “It is reasonable to conclude that cure of HIV infection has been achieved in this patient.”

Brown, who is referred to as 'The Berlin Patient'  gave an interview to German magazine Stern:

His course of treatment for leukaemia was gruelling and lengthy. Brown suffered two relapses and underwent two stem cell transplants, as well as a serious neurological disorder that flared up when he seemed to be on the road to recovery.

The neurological problem led to temporary blindness and memory problems. Brown is still undergoing physiotherapy to help restore his coordination and gait, as well as speech therapy.

Friends have noticed a personality change too: he is much more blunt, possibly a disinhibition that is related to the neurological problems.

On being asked if it would have been better to live with HIV than to have beaten it in this way he says “Perhaps. Perhaps it would have been better, but I don’t ask those sorts of questions anymore.”

Brown's case is obviously one of very specific traits where similar treatment would be unlikely to benefit people with HIV in other situations. More on Brown's case history at AIDSMAP.


  1. QJ201 says

    So here’s the short version.

    Is there a cure for HIV?

    Yes, but it’s hugely expensive and will probably kill half the people that try it.

    Implications: Gene therapy…which is a very very new science…and it scares me!

  2. architectinberlin says


    Gene therapy is certainly going to have serious moral dilemnas and debates but wasn’t that the case for almost all medical research and breakthroughs throughout history? If we didn’t move forward we would still be prohibited from dissecting bodies.

    Also, were the neurological complications the result of the transplant itself, or the leukemia, or the HIV?

    Still, I’m proud to be living here, a stone’s throw away from the Charite, the hospital complex where the breakthrough occured. Go Deutschland!

  3. ratbastard says

    I’m not deliberately trying to be contrary, but while this is interesting, it’s hardly conclusive of anything. We’re all unique human beings and there’re always anomalies, including in the medical field. Nature may have simply given this gentleman a good hand.

  4. architectinberlin says


    Well, but isn’t the breakthrough that one person’s lucky hand (i.e., the donor) could be shared with another person (i.e., the recipient)?

    It’s not a universal cure, but it could be a new path to one.

  5. says

    Scientists have been focusing on the 8 – 10% of those with “killer t-cells” that prevent HIV from reeking the kind of havoc typically associated with AIDS. Apparently, because this guy had Leukemia, he was eligible for a bone marrow transplant. I’m wondering if this is more of a “stumble upon” situation based on his particular circumstance.

    However, finding a matching donor, who just happened to be one of the very few who was resistant to HIV would be very rare.

    I’m not a scientist, but it would seem to me that they would need to be able to synthesize the “killer t-cells” found in the small percentage of the population in order to come up with a vaccine.

    Nevertheless, this is exciting news and definitely progress in the right direction.

  6. ratbastard says


    …Hey, seriously, good luck to Mr. Brown. I’m not trying to rain on the parade, believe me. Just saying, that’s all.

  7. rovex says

    I can see the fox news/fundies take on this now. Homosexuals use liquidized aborted babies to cure themselves of their god given plague.

  8. Steve says

    Where does the “genetically-engineered” come from? Seems like the immunity is a natural phenomenon.

  9. murry says

    wow wow wow unbelievable. i sure hope that any research to beat this lingering death can be stop i believe now it can. we waited for so long now this small step of being freed to live again. i hope and believe that change is good and it is good news for all individuals infected with the disease. i just hope the govt or big drug companies doesn’t mangle or prolong any hope or chances to obtain this research to a possible cure for everyone.

  10. Martin says

    Is it a cure? All indicators say yes, the man’s immune system got rid of the virus.

    However, is it a desirable cure? A cure for AIDS should do three things: clear the system of the virus, restore the immune response and get rid of the pills.

    This approach doesn’t do the latter two: Because it’s a transplant, the man most likely still has to take a lot of pills, albeit something like mycophenolic acid and prednisone instead of truvada and sustiva. And because these are immunosupressants, he is still immuno-compromised.

  11. Ryan says

    “Genetically engineered” is incorrect. These cells possessed natural resistance and were not altered in any way other than being collected and removed from the donor, stored in deep freeze and then infused into the recipient.