On the seventh anniversary of his cure from HIV, Timothy Ray Brown told a group of global HIV/AIDS scientists and health researchers gathered at Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital that he was grateful to everyone who helped keep him alive.
“For awhile there I thought that people were interested in my story because I’m a freak science experiment that worked,” he said candidly to the room of experts who convened at the hospital Thursday, April 24, to discuss and collaborate on different approaches towards HIV prevention and strategies to cure the epidemic.
Brown, an American but known to some as the “Berlin Patient,” made headlines when he was cured of HIV in 2007. He underwent a stem cell transplant in Berlin for leukemia treatment; his donor carried a genetic resistance to HIV. The process overhauled his entire immune system and cured him of HIV and leukemia.
At one point in his battle with the disease Brown said he was told he had a five percent chance of survival. “Now that I live in Las Vegas part time, I know you can beat the odds,” he said.
In addition to sharing his story with many, Brown founded the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation in 2012. Part of the World AIDS Institute, the foundation’s sole goal is to find a cure for AIDS.
“Having Mr. Brown visit Chicago on the seventh anniversary of his cure, and hearing his difficult journey and his continuing compassion and dedication to helping others, was inspirational for me – and I think for everyone,” said event organizer Dr. Thomas D’Aquila, professor of medicine at Feinberg and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“The workshop brought together researchers for very different fields of study – and sparked the kind of productive conversations and new collaborations that I am confident will lead to accelerated progress against HIV,” he said.
According to a report from the City of Chicago, the city’s HIV rate in 2011 was three times greater than the national rate, and new HIV infection and AIDS diagnosis rates were both at least double.
D’Aquila said he and his colleagues plan to continue the work that evolved from the workshop. He said they intend to translate their growing knowledge into real improvements in prevention and care of HIV locally in Chicago, moving towards a cure for many more.
D’Aquila organized the daylong workshop in partnership with Brian Mustanski, an associate professor in medical social sciences at Feinberg. It was sponsored by the HIV Translational Research Center and the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.