Researchers have now dubbed her as the “Esperanza patient,” after the town in Argentina where she lives. In English, “esperanza” means “hope.”
A woman in Argentina is possibly the second person who has been completely cured of HIV, thanks to her own immune system. The 30-year-old mother was first diagnosed with HIV in 2013, and researchers have now dubbed her as the “Esperanza patient,” after the town in Argentina where she lives. In English, “esperanza” means “hope".
“I enjoy being healthy,” the patient, who chose to remain anonymous, due to the stigma associated with the virus, told NBC News in Spanish over 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.”
In the study that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on November 15, 2021, the co-author said they believe their findings will act as a ray of light to an estimated 38 million people living with the virus globally. It will also help the ever-expanding HIV-cure research field in many ways, they added.
Woman’s own immune system has possibly cured her of HIV https://t.co/ImN3Pc6SYn— NBC News Health (@NBCNewsHealth) November 16, 2021
The case also serves as one of two proofs of a concept that a so-called sterilizing cure of the virus is possible, apparently through natural immunity.
When the Esperanza patient began partnering with Yu’s team in 2019, the scientists searched mightily for any viable HIV in 1.2 billion of her blood cells. They also searched 500 million placenta-tissue cells after the woman gave birth to an HIV-negative baby in March 2020.
“We’re never going to be 100 percent sure there’s absolutely no intact virus, no functional virus anywhere in her body,” Yu said of the Esperanza patient. “To bring what we learn from these patients to a broader patient population is our ultimate goal,” he added.
“This is really the miracle of the human immune system that did it,” said Dr. Xu Yu, a viral immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston. Dr Yu led the exhaustive search for any viable HIV in the woman’s body, along with Dr. Natalia Laufer, a physician-scientist at INBIRS Institute in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
“Now we have to figure out the mechanisms,” said Dr. Steven Deeks, a prominent HIV cure researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved with the study. “How does this happen? And how can we recapitulate this therapeutically in everybody?”
Now, scientists are pursuing the excessively complicated task of curing HIV on multiple fronts, and they are including gene therapy; “kick and kill” efforts to flush the virus from its so-called reservoir or “block and lock” methods to keep it trapped in cells; along with therapeutic vaccines that would enhance the body’s immune response to the virus.
Two other people have been cured therapeutically to date, and in both cases, it was done through complex and dangerous stem cell transplants.
Cover Image Source (Representative): Getty Images | Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali | EyeEm