Reports have emerged that another person may have been cured naturally of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) without using any form of anti-retro viral drugs (ARV).
The Argentine woman who has been described as a scientific curiosity, was diagnosed with HIV in 2013, but has never shown any signs of illness from being infected with the virus. This is as traditional tests conducted on her failed to reveal evidence that the virus was alive and replicating in her body, as would have been the case, despite the presence of antibodies suggesting that she had been infected.
In a Nature report on Monday citing a report published in Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists disclosed since 2017 researchers in Argentina and in Massachusetts, United States of America have been collecting blood samples from her, meticulously scanning the DNA of more than a billion cells, in search of signs that the virus may still be hiding out in a dormant state ready to roar to life if the conditions were right but didn’t find any.
This according to the Nature report means that the woman, being referred to as the “Esperanza Patient” has apparently eradicated the deadly virus from her body without the help of drugs or a bone marrow transplant, which would make her only the second person believed to have been similarly cured of HIV. They have been described as ‘Elite Controllers.’
Earlier, a 67-year old California woman named Loreen Willenberg was found to have maintained control of the virus for nearly three decades without the use of antiretroviral drugs.
Previous reports have shown that only two people have been effectively cured of HIV in history by doctors. The first is the Berlin Patient in 2009 and the second being the London Patient in 2019. On both occasions the virus was put into sustained remission with a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that makes cells resistant to HIV invasion. Those cases proved a cure was feasible, but experts argued that transplants are expensive and dangerous, as donors were also difficult to find.
But with the current finding in the “Esperanza Patient”, scientists are looking at the possibility of extracting the components in their DNA that give them this special immunity with the hope of bottling them into therapies that could help others.
“This gives us hope that the human immune system is powerful enough to control HIV and eliminate all the functional virus,” Xu Yu, an immunologist at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard and senior author on the new report was quoted by Nature as saying.
Yu’s group is currently working on the discovery, which was previously announced at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in March with the possibility of identifying possible treatments. They are doing this alongside the Esperanza Patient’s physician, Natalia Laufer, an HIV researcher at El Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas en Retrovirus y SIDA in Buenos Aires who studies elite controllers. Their hope is that by combining data from their cohorts with others from around the world, including children in South Africa whose bodies have begun to control the virus after being on HIV drugs for most of their lives, patterns of protection will begin to emerge that might one day be harnessed to produce cures.
Te Esperanza Patient was quoted as saying in an email response that she doesn’t feel special, but rather, blessed for the way the virus behaves in her body.
“Just thinking that my condition might help achieve a cure for this virus makes me feel a great responsibility and commitment to make this a reality,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, her first child is healthy and HIV-free, and she and her partner are now expecting a second, said the woman, who did not want to be named.