Woman Becomes ‘Natural Suppressor’ of HIV as Her Body Completely Clears the Disease Doctors Find Only Antibodies
Another patient has seemingly recovered fully from a diagnosis of HIV.
The woman in Argentina may have become the first person whose immune system, itself, cured her of the virus. And, though it has been heralded as a miracle, it presents hope to scientists—and patients—that one day we may be able to put the HIV scourge behind us.
The 30-year-old woman dubbed the “Esperanza” Patient (in the tradition of naming HIV-cured patients after their city of residence), may prove a little more special.
“This is really the miracle of the human immune system that did it,” Dr. Xu Yu, a viral immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston, told NBC. Yu led the exhaustive, no-stone-unturned search for any trace of HIV in the Esperanza Patient, and published the study this month in Annals of Internal Medicine.
The few details released to the public regarding the unique case includes that she was diagnosed in 2013, and has been showing ‘non-existent viral presence’ for 8 years. Then, in 2020 she gave birth to an HIV-negative child. If researchers’ can figure out how her immune system is capable to neutralizing the virus so effectively, it would lead to more effective and basic treatments, and perhaps even a cure.
HIV has been hypothesized as cured in 2 other people, the “London,” and “Berlin” Patients, who were both cured with a stem cell transplant treatment.
The transplanted donor cells had a gene defect called CCR5delta32mutant which results in the absence of one of the critical entry gatekeepers that HIV generally needs to infect cells.
In the case of the Esperanza Patient, she is defined as an ‘elite controller’, with rare odds and an immune system that can suppress the dreaded virus naturally. HIV is difficult to treat and detect, as it is capable of infecting and living dormant in the immune cells, which live the longest, giving it excellent resilience.
These elite controllers have an ability to preferentially target these long-lived cells, according to another paper published by Yu in 2020 with “Esperanza” as a participant. The “viral reservoir” dries up, removing HIV’s most effective survival strategy.
“I enjoy being healthy,” the Esperanza patient, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NBC News in a translated email. “I have a healthy family. I don’t have to medicate, and I live as though nothing has happened. This already is a privilege.”
38 million people live with HIV, which over the last two decades has become somewhat treatable with drugs, but the authors state that the more cases like Esperanza that medical science can uncover and study, the more we can begin to understand what it means—and looks like—to cure the disease.
Maybe another reason people are feeling hopeful. The word ‘esperanza’, in Spanish, literally means hope.