A 30-year-old Argentinian woman, dubbed “Esperanza patient” after her hometown, has become the second-ever HIV-infected person to defeat the virus without additional medical treatment, helped only by her immune system.
No additional information about the woman, who was first diagnosed with the AIDS-causing infection in 2013, has been made public apart the fact that she has an HIV-negative boyfriend and newborn baby.
Scientists, who have published their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal on Monday, said the discovery boosts hope among the estimated 38 million HIV-positive people for a so-called sterilizing cure.
The “Esperanza patient” case serves as one of two proofs of concept that a sterilizing cure of the virus is apparently possible through natural immunity.
Though an HIV-poitive person typically requires constant drug therapy that prevents the virus from attaching to their immune cells’ DNA and replicating, the Argentinian woman- in the eight years since she was diagnosed- only received medication for 6 months during pregnancy to ensure her baby would be healthy.
Dr. Xu Yu, a viral immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston, who led the exhaustive search for any viable HIV in the woman’s body in partnership with Dr. Natalia Laufer, a physician scientist at INBIRS Institute in Buenos Aries, Argentina, said it is the miracle of the human immune system that really did it.
According to Dr. Steven Deeks, a prominent HIV cure researcher at University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved with the study, they now need to figure out the mechanisms and the possible ways recapitulate this therapeutically in everybody, if possible.
The discovery was first announced in March at an international meeting of HIV experts, but this studi officially confirmed no intact remnants of the virus have been found in the 1.5 billion blood and tissue cells the researchers analyzed.
Only one other person has been confirmed to have defeated the virus without medical intervention and was identified in August 2020 as 67-year-old Loreen Willenberg from San Francisco, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992.
The study Willenberg was participating in also showed an additional 63 individuals who were controlling the infection without drugs by isolating the HIV in viral reservoirs in their bodies, hence preventing replication.
Both women have been labeled ‘elite controllers’, a rare subset of HIV patients who show no signs of the infection despite not undergoing antiretroviral treatment (ART), needed for most infected people, to keep the virus from replicating en masse inside certain immune cells.
That process eventually destroys the immune system and causes the condition known as AIDS.