The first human to be cured of HIV will share his story during a forum this week at The Evergreen State College.
Seattle native Timothy Ray Brown was formerly known as the anonymous “Berlin Patient” after a 2007 stem cell transplant made him HIV-free. Brown had been diagnosed with HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — in 1995 while attending college in Berlin.
The free public forum will run 4-6:30 p.m. Friday at the main library at Evergreen, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia. Brown will be joined by Gero Huetter, the German doctor who treated him.
Huetter found the stem cell donor with the specific cell mutation that makes a person immune to HIV infection. Huetter had also been treating Brown for leukemia at the time. The resulting stem cell transplants cured Brown’s cancer and transferred the genetic mutation to his immune system.
Before the transplant, Brown was told he had a 5 percent chance of survival. These days, the 48-year-old Brown wants to inspire others — and ensure his recovery becomes the new rule instead of an exception.
“People have said they had kind of given up hope, but after hearing my story, they realize they have a reason to keep on going, to keep on living,” Brown said. “I’m hoping there will be many more like me.”
Last year, he co-founded the Cure for AIDS Alliance with Dave Purdy, who said Brown brings a message of hope to the worldwide quest for a cure.
“No one believed that a cure was possible before his case,” Purdy said. “The HIV epidemic is still a major issue, and not just here in the U.S., but around the world.”
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle reports that Brown’s cure is being used as a blueprint for a therapy that modifies an HIV patient’s stem cells to mimic the same genetics that create natural immunity.
The upcoming forum at Evergreen is sponsored by Creative Cures, a student-led group that focuses on health and science careers. Nicholas Bense, an Evergreen student who organized the event, said the issue is especially relevant for the local LGBT community.
“It’s an inspiring story for victims of HIV,” Bense said.
In Thurston County, the HIV infection rate is below the state and national average, according to the Pierce County AIDS Foundation, which also serves the Olympia area. The foundation reports that HIV is prevalent in 87.7 per 100,000 people in Thurston County, compared to 191.3 per 100,000 people statewide and 350.4 per 100,000 people nationwide.