HIV and AIDS News

Esperanza patient: Woman’s immune system cures itself from HIV

An Argentine woman has become the second person whose immune system has cured itself from HIV.
Written by Nompilo Gwala

An Argentine woman, diagnosed in 2013, has become the second documented person whose own immune system may have cured her of HIV. Researchers believe that the patient’s immune system appears to have cleared the virus on its own.

The Annals of Internal Medicine said it required over eight years of follow-up and tests conducted on more than a billion of her cells in which no trace of the infection was found.

Steven Deeks, an HIV researcher at the University of California in San Francisco, said her case was rather unique.

“It’s not that she’s controlling the virus, which we do see. There’s no virus there, which is quite different,” Deeks told the Washington Post.

The authors of the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine believe that their findings will bring hope to the estimated 38 million people globally living with the virus and to the HIV-cure research field.

‘Esperanza patient’

“We propose to refer to her as the ‘Esperanza patient’ to send a message of hope for finding a cure for HIV-1 infection,” wrote the researchers. The 30-year-old mother lives in Esperanza which is in the center of the province of Santa Fe in Argentina.

She has never shown any symptoms of the illness since being diagnosed eight years ago. Doctors and researchers in Argentina have been collecting her blood samples since 2017. Although her blood had shown the presence of HIV antibodies, the virus wasn’t replicating. The samples were analysed in search of a dormant virus, but tests were unable to show dormant or active HIV.

Joel Blankson, an HIV researcher at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said it’s possible that she had developed an HIV-specific immune response before becoming infected. His editorial was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Not the first

The Esperanza Patient, whose partner died from AIDS, is not the only patient who has managed to have naturally removed the virus from her body. A 66-year-old woman in California, known as Loreen Willenberg, was diagnosed with HIV in 1992. She became the first person ever to be rid of the virus without any medication or risky bone marrow transplant.

According to the study published in the journal Nature, an additional 63 people were able to control the infection without using drugs. This was done by isolating the virus in their bodies in viral reservoirs and preventing replication. The researchers indicate that such individuals may have acquired a “functional cure” for HIV,  which is coming to light only now because of the latest genetic technology.

‘Unusually powerful T cells’

Deeks worked on a study of Willenberg last year. He said both women may have been cured because they had unusually powerful T cells, a component of the body’s immune system. The HIV researcher said an understanding of the mechanism could lead to developing therapeutic vaccines. This could clear out HIV without negative long-term consequences.

There have been other patients who have recovered from HIV in the past but with the aid of drug cocktails or stem cell transplants. Timothy Ray Brown who was known as the ‘Berlin Patient’ was the first to be cured of AIDS in 2008. Adam Castillejo was known as the ‘London Patient’ and was the second to be cured, in 2019. Both men had bone marrow transplants for cancer which also included antiretroviral therapy.

 

HIV currently has no cure however the virus has been eliminated in two people who have received stem cell transplants to treat their cancer. However, researchers have found transplants to be too dangerous and have too many complications which makes them an unrealistic tool for curing a disease. – Health-e News

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Nompilo Gwala

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