The second-known person to naturally cure their HIV infection has been discovered by scientists in Argentina.
Apart from other novel findings, the discovery brings the possibility of a cure closer for the 38 million people living with HIV globally.
According to Mail Online, a group of Harvard-based scientists announced the discovery at a major international meeting of HIV experts.
Known only as the ‘Esperanza patient’, she is the second person to be found to have no intact virus. The first — Loreen Willenberg, 67, from San Francisco — was found in August.
Loreen Willenberg was part of a group of elite controllers whose HIV appears to be locked away where it can’t produce a new virus.
‘Finding one patient with this natural ability for functional cure [no virus that can reproduce] is good, but finding two means so much more,’ said Dr Natalia Laufer, the patient’s doctor and an HIV researcher in Buenos Aires, according to The Times.
‘It means there must be more people like this out there,’ she said. ‘This is a significant leap forward in the world of HIV cure research. Upon diagnosis, her tests surprised us all.’
Reports state that — the Esperanza Patient and Willenberg — are extreme examples of a rare group of people known as elite controllers, who have never taken antiretroviral therapy to fight the virus, and who show no signs of the virus in their blood.
Antiretroviral therapy can keep HIV replication suppressed, the virus inserts its genetic material into the chromosomes of human cells, making it very difficult to eradicate. HIV can lie dormant in a reservoir of resting immune cells indefinitely, but when antiretrovirals are stopped and the cells become activated, they can start churning out new virus.
The finding of the Argentinian woman, Professor Yu said, and the understanding of how the bodies of elite patients deal with the virus ‘opens a door to a potential cure’, she said.
The work announced at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections provides the most convincing evidence to date that scientists are making significant progress towards a cure for HIV.