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Immune to AIDS

Imagine if you had a genetic defect that could ensure that you would never become infected with the AIDS virus.
That is exactly what happened to Stephen Crohn, who had been dubbed as the “Man Who Can’t Catch AIDS” by The Independent, a newspaper in Britain, in the ‘80s. Crohn’s boyfriend, Jerry Green, was one of the first known victims of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Green began suffering from the disease in 1978, and Crohn cared for him into his final days.

Crohn lost a copious amount of friends to the virus over the years, particularly during the ‘80s and ‘90s when the disease was more prevalent, but he never fell victim to it himself, despite participating in the same activities as those of his friends who, unfortunately, did contract the disease. This was because of a genetic defect that affects Crohn’s white blood cells that has come to be known as the delta 32 mutation.

Crohn voluntarily participated in studies with doctors who were simultaneously studying him to learn more about the disease while also trying to develop a cure. Crohn was voluntarily injected with HIV in studies performed on homosexual men who were believed to be immune to the disease. The fact that the virus did not take to his cells and infect him confirmed the suspicion that Crohn was, in fact, immune to it.

The maraviroc drug was developed as a result of studying Crohn’s cells. Maraviroc works to prevent the spread of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) once a person becomes infected. Another benefit of studying Crohn’s cells came in 2006, when a patient who was suffering with the AIDS virus in Berlin was effectively cured of the disease. She received bone marrow from a patient who donated matching marrow with an additional benefit – the delta 32 mutation.

To put it in layman’s terms, Crohn described the process thusly, that the HIV cells were like keys looking for a door. While most people’s CD4 white blood cells have “two key holes” in their “doors,” Crohn’s genetic defect made it so that his cells only had one key hole per door. Therefore, the HIV cells were unable to attach to Crohn’s white blood cells.

Less than one percent of the population is believed to possess this mutation. It is safe to assume that Crohn took after his father, Richard Crohn, who was also born with this genetic mutation.

Sadly, Mr. Crohn passed away at the age of 66 years old on August 23 in New York City. This week, his sister Amy revealed that the cause of death was suicide, due to suffering for years with survivor’s guilt. Crohn is also survived by two more sisters, as well as several nieces and nephews.

Crohn was also the great nephew of Burrill B. Crohn, the gastroenterologist who discovered the disease of the same name (Crohn’s disease). It was this relation that inspired Crohn to work with doctors in the first place. Crohn wished to carry on his family’s tradition of helping others through medicine.

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