I know, everyone hates history, but hang in with me, this one is important.
His name was Gabriel Lemieux. He arrived in Québec in 1638 or 1643. The story of his life in New France is not what matters here, particularly since it was intentionally muddied. What matters is his birth. Gabriel was born “on promise of marriage” in Rouen, Normandy, in 1630, to Thomas Lemieux and Anne LeCornu. The Black Plague was raging in the province. Thomas died of it, as did Thomas’ mother and one brother, Anne’s mother and several other members of the two extended families. But Anne never contracted it. Anne disappeared from the public record after her son’s birth, and he was turned over to his father’s family to raise. A large number of the early settlers of French Canada came from Normandy after the plague.
Fast forward to rural England in the 1990s. A DNA analysis was performed on the residents of a small village in the Cotswolds who had traceable ancestors to the 16th and 17th centuries. Comparison of the death records of the ancestors with the DNA results turned up a link between those who either did not contract the Black Plague or who survived it with a mutated gene that carries resistance to HIV, anthrax and plague.
Put these two things together and you have a fairly good idea of why certain anomalies in French Canadian genealogies led to scientific interest in the incidence of that genetic mutation in French Canadians in the past twenty years.
Someone finally put two and two together and with amazing results.
Timothy Brown had AIDS. He also had leukemia. In 2007, he received a blood transplant to treat this leukemia. But, his doctors took a huge leap and searched out a particular blood donor. They rejected 70 otherwise compatible donors looking for the one with the “Black Plague” mutation.
Not only was Brown’s leukemia put into remission, but his AIDS was cured. Not just held in check the way all the AIDS drugs do, but totally, completely cured.
About 1% of all Caucasians carry the mutated gene. It is even rarer in people of other races, not surprisingly given the history of the Black Plague. This information helps explain why HIV/AIDS has taken on epidemic patterns in Africa. There is little or no genetic resistance to the virus.
Brown received adult blood, but StemCyte, an umbilical cord blood bank, is seeking a larger pool of donors. With umbilical cord blood, there is a greatly reduced rejection factor than that seen in adult blood donations. Dr. Lawrence Petz, medical director of StemCyte, told ABC News that this firm has tested 17,000 cord blood samples and only found 102 that had the HIV-resistant mutation. The have begun offering cord blood transplants for HIV-infected patients. The first occurred a few weeks ago, but it will be months before the effects are verified. There is a second transplant recipient planned in Spain.
Given what is known about the history of the plague and those who either never contracted it or survived it, it might be possible to concentrate efforts to find those who carry the mutation to certain populations. These are not mutations that occurred before written history or before vital statistic records were kept. They occurred in cultures with both church and civic records dating back to that time period. And in French Canada especially, it occurred in a culture that is even more obsessed with genealogy than Mormons (and far more accurate.)
Timothy Brown is very grateful for that extra effort in finding the perfect blood donor for him five years ago, but he also feels a certain level of guilt about being the only person cured with this treatment so far. He told ABC, “I don’t want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV. I want a cure for everyone.”