A woman from Argentina is being characterized by researchers as a “hope patient” after her own immune system appears to have cured the 30-year old of her own HIV.
The patient becomes just the second documented person whose immune system combatted against the deadly disease in this fashion – achieving a “sterilizing cure” without any form of stem cell transplantation.
The woman, who has been nicknamed the “Esperanza patient” for her representation of hope, provided blood samples to be analyzed between 2017 and 2020. She had 1.2 billion of her blood cells searched and 500 million placenta-tissue cells searched after she gave birth to an HIV-negative baby in March 2020.
Co-authors of the peer-reviewed study, which published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, said they believe their findings will bring hope for a long-term cure to the nearly 38 million people globally afflicted by the virus.
“Our study shows that such a cure can also be reached during natural infection – in the absence of bone marrow transplants (or any type of treatment at all),” Dr. Xu Yu, a viral immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston, told CNN. “Examples of such a cure that develops naturally suggest that current efforts to find a cure for HIV infection are not elusive, and that the prospects of getting to an ‘AIDS-free generation’ may ultimately be successful.”
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Researchers noted in the study the patient has a rare “elite controller” of the virus but has received no regular treatment for eight years and shows no signs of active infection or intact virus capable of replicating.
“Why is this exciting? It suggests that some elite controllers may have gone beyond simply controlling the virus and instead have managed to eradicate it,” the study read. “If the Esperanza patient has indeed achieved a sterilizing cure, defining the mechanisms responsible for it becomes important.”
Researchers have successfully cured two other people therapeutically via dangerous stem cell transplants. The only other patient in history without transplants was a 67-year-old woman from California, Loreen Willenberg, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992.