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HIV+ Argentinean Woman Gets Cured Without Treatment

The discovery suggests that there can be many such patients who can fight off the virus naturally.

Representational use only.

In an extremely rare case, an anonymous Argentinean woman has become the second patient to show no detectable traces of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) despite not even receiving a stem cell transplantation treatment.

The so-called ‘Esperanza’ patient, named after her hometown in Argentina, was diagnosed with HIV way back in 2013. After eight years since the infection was detected, follow-up checking and viral load tests suggested that the woman has no detectable viral infection nor there is any evidence to show the presence of any HIV-associated disease.  

There have been other cases in which HIV patients got cured—the Berlin Patient, diagnosed in 1995, and the London Patient, in 2003. However, in both these cases, the patients underwent stem cell transplantation to treat different kinds of cancer. In the case of the Berlin Patient, transplantation had unexpectedly cured the viral infection or, at least, put the virus in such a condition that it could not be detected any further even when the antiretroviral (ART) drugs were ceased. The London Patient also showed many similarities and both the cases hinted that stem cell transplantation is an effective way of fighting the virus.

Since then, scientists have been able to decipher more how some people’s immune systems (the defence mechanism) can find natural ways to counter the virus. This includes the rare ‘elite controllers’, who can tame the virus substantially without even drugs or transplants. However, the ‘Esperanza’ patient is even more intriguing among elite controllers. Sometimes, even the elite controllers show the detectable presence of the virus whereas the ‘Esperanza’ patient showed no detectable viral presence. The latest findings have been reported in a paper published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine recently. 

The Esperanza patient took ART drugs only during pregnancy in 2019-2020, according to reports. After delivering a healthy baby who was HIV negative, she stopped taking the ART drugs.

Researchers in the latest paper said that the distinguishing factor of the Esperanza patient in comparison to other elite controllers is the absence of detectable HIV provirus, or viral particles, that can potentially replicate further. The researchers tested large numbers of cells of the patient to conclude non-detectable viral presence.

Regarding the findings, the researchers were quoted to have said, “Does this imply that our patient has developed a sterilising cure during natural infection? We believe this is likely but it cannot be proved. Scientific concepts can never be proved through empirical data collection; they can only be disproved. In the context of HIV-1 research, this means that it will be impossible to empirically prove that anybody has achieved a sterilising cure.” 

However, the researchers said that their findings of the natural phenomenon are not proof though. But the findings, considered very important from the clinical perspective, also suggest that there can be many such patients who can fight off the virus naturally.

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