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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 14, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 24
'Berlin Patient' visits Seattle - Timothy Ray Brown will speak at free public event
June 19
Section One
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'Berlin Patient' visits Seattle - Timothy Ray Brown will speak at free public event
June 19

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Timothy Ray Brown, famous as the 'Berlin Patient' cured of HIV, will be in Seattle for a series of appearances June 18 and 19, including a science forum at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a free community event at Seattle University.

Brown was cured of HIV through a blood stem cell transplant in 2008, and has remained free of the virus ever since. He is in Seattle at the invitation of the Hutchinson Center, where scientists are attempting to apply his experience to cure HIV.

Brown is no stranger to Seattle - in fact, he was born at Northgate Hospital. 'It's now the parking lot for Barnes and Noble,' he jokes. Later, his family moved to Edmonds. After Brown graduated high school he moved to Capitol Hill, and attended Seattle U in 1985 and 1986.

'I went to my first Gay Pride in Seattle - it must have been 1983 - right before I graduated from high school,' Brown recalled.

TREATED FOR LEUKEMIA
At 24 he moved to Europe, ending up in Berlin, where in 1995 he was diagnosed as HIV-positive. In 2006 he was also diagnosed with leukemia and was treated by Dr. Gero Hutter at Heidelberg University.

Hutter performed a blood stem cell transplant using a donor with a rare gene mutation that provides natural resistance to HIV. The doctor said that resistance transferred to Brown.

'That mutation occurs in only about one percent of northern Europeans,' Brown told SGN. 'I was lucky to be in Germany. It's most common there.'

Hutter deliberately searched for a donor with the genetic mutation, Brown said, thinking that it might have an effect on his HIV infection.

'There were 260 possible donors,' Brown recalled, 'and he found the right one on the 61st try.'

The transplant not only cured Brown's leukemia, but it eliminated HIV from his system. To this day he tests HIV-negative.

Except for being susceptible to colds, Brown says he is 'basically in good health, especially since I moved to a dry climate.' He now lives in Las Vegas, although he plans to spend the summer in Seattle, visiting his mother and old friends.

Then, he heads off on a 'national tour, leading up to the International AIDS Conference in Australia in July next year.'

ADVOCATE FOR A CURE
Brown has formed the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, associated with the World AIDS Institute, to advocate for more funding towards finding potential cures for HIV. The foundation debuted at last year's International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. For Brown, this is a return to the activism of his youth.

'I was involved in ACT UP Seattle in the '90s,' he says, but he didn't do much activism in Europe. 'It wasn't until I was cured that I became convinced to go public. I couldn't remain silent. I want to see other people cured.

'Until everyone who has HIV is cured, I'll keep going. I want everyone to know there is hope. I believe there will be a cure in my lifetime.'

Seattle is the kickoff location for Brown's tour not only because he was born here, but also because Seattle hospitals have received one of only three Martin Delaney Collaboratory grants funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health).

THE TASK AHEAD
Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is one of a trio of Fred Hutchinson doctors who will lead the study.

'One part is to figure out what led to the cure,' Kiem explains. '[Brown] had chemo, he had a transplant, he had HIV-negative cells introduced. Any of these could have had a part in the cure.'

The other part of the task, Kiem told SGN, is to figure out how to apply Brown's experience to a practical cure. Brown himself had a particularly rough course of treatment.

'I wouldn't recommend it to anybody,' he told SGN. 'It almost killed me several times!'

'In [Brown's] case these were not his own cells,' Kiem explained. 'They reacted with his cells. It's what we call 'graft versus host disease.' It's a common complication.

'In our study, we use the patient's own cells, genetically modify them, and then reintroduce them. We can, with the technology available - gene editing - disable the HIV doorway and replenish the patient with HIV-resistant cells.'

Research is already well advanced, Kiem says, and there are several potential gene therapy treatments that might achieve similar results.

MEET BROWN IN PERSON
Brown is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion open to the public on Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m., preceded by a social hour at 6. It will be held in the Pigott Building at Seattle University (901 12th Ave.). Information on the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation can be found at www.worldaidsinstitute.org.

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