The Man Who Was Immune to AIDS

By Jane Coaston | September 23, 2013

Stephen Crohn, whose natural immunity to HIV helped scientists learn more about the virus, died on August 23. He was 66.

Nancy Siesel/The New York Times

On August 23, Stephen Crohn passed away, leaving an incredible legacy that furthered research into HIV and how to prevent and eliminate AIDS.

Crohn, a volunteer in clinical trials on HIV,  was immune to the virus – when scientists attempted to infect his CD4 cells (white blood cells that make up much of the immune system, also known as “T-cells”) with HIV, nothing happened. After examining his CD4 cells, researchers discovered that he had a genetic defect that altered a receptor (CCR5), preventing HIV from attaching to the cells. Based on the data provided by looking at Crohn’s CD4 cells, scientists are hopeful that they could potentially mimic his natural immune response to design a treatment plan or vaccine for HIV.

In a 1996 story in the British newspaper The Independent, Crohn told the reporter that being able to help in the fight to eliminate HIV would be “very touching,” as he lost his partner to AIDS in 1982. Thanks to  Crohn and the dedicated team of scientists who studied his cells, we are much closer to creating an AIDS-free generation.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.