When Dr. Gero Hütter gave Timothy Ray Brown a bone marrow transplant at a Berlin hospital on Feb. 7, 2007, he knew he could be making history. If, that is, Brown survived long enough to see whether the grueling transplant cured not only his leukemia but also his infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Brown did survive, and eight years later, is free of both cancer and HIV. On Thursday, the German doctor reunited with his Seattle-born patient for a rare joint public appearance to talk about how the world’s first -- and so far only -- HIV cure came about and what it means for the future.
“At the time we were doing the transplant, we knew we were doing something very special that could change the whole medical world if it worked,” Hütter told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people - including Brown’s mother – at the downtown Seattle Public Library. “We weren’t clear what would happen. It was a big and good surprise that it worked.”
Added Brown: “I didn’t really believe I was cured until he published the paper [in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009].”
Identified only as “the Berlin patient” in that first paper and in subsequent media reports, Brown, 48, went public in 2010, around the time he returned from Berlin to live in the United States.