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Stephen Crohn, "The Man Who Can't Catch AIDS," Commits Suicide

Stephen Crohn was called the "The Man Who Can't Catch AIDS" in a 1996 piece by The Independent.

Crohn, who was gay and watched his lover and many friends die of AIDS, has been instrumental in researchers gaining better understanding of the HIV/AIDS virus primarily due to his inability to contract it. 

According to The New York Times:

Mr. Crohn had first come to the attention of Dr. Bill Paxton, then a scientist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York. Dr. Paxton had been looking for gay men who seemed resistant to infection. Working with Dr. David Ho, now the chief executive of the Diamond Center, Dr. Paxton exposed Mr. Crohn’s cells, and those of another promising volunteer, to H.I.V.

“I couldn’t infect the CD4 cells,” he said in an interview. “I’d never seen that before.”

The CD4 white blood cells, which H.I.V. normally penetrates to start the process of disease, locked out the virus. Even at H.I.V. concentrations thousands of times greater than would be encountered outside a test tube, nothing happened.

Years later, researchers isolated the cause. H.I.V. gets into cells by fitting into two receptors on CD4 cells. But thanks to a genetic defect, the second receptor on Mr. Crohn’s CD4 cells was flawed. The malfunctioning receptor, CCR5, had no negative effect on his health and kept H.I.V. from getting in. As he put it in a “Nova” documentary on PBS: “It’s like a key — the virus comes with this. It’s looking for a two-holed keyhole. I don’t have one of the holes. Period. It’s never going to attach to me.”

The genetic anomaly, known as the delta 32 mutation, which produces the flawed receptor, is found in less than 1 percent of the population.

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Crohn took his own life on Aug. 23, though his death was just announced this past Friday. He was 66-years-old.

 

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