There are only a few documented cases around the world where people have been completely cured of HIV. A woman from Argentina who wished to remain anonymous was completely cured of HIV. Her body was completely free of all viruses without a stem cell transplant.
The woman was first diagnosed with HIV-1 in 2013. This so-called “Esperanza patient” underwent follow-up checks and 10 viral load tests over the next 8 years. There are no longer any signs of active viral infection or HIV-1 in her body.
HIV cured patients
There has been a successful cure for HIV in the past. This happened in 2003 to a “patient from London” and in 1995 to a “Berlin patient”. In both cases, however, a treatment was chosen that involved stem cell transplantation to treat various types of cancer. Stem cell transplantation could provide an effective yet rare form of virus sterilization. It seems that the human body can sometimes find its own way to deal with the insidious virus. The Esperanza patient is a real rarity.
“In a small subgroup of persons living with HIV-1 who are frequently termed ‘elite controllers’ or ‘natural suppressors’, HIV-1 plasma viremia remains durably undetectable by commercial polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays in the absence of antiretroviral therapy,” an international team of researchers explains in a new study, led by co-first authors Gabriela Turk and Kyra Seiger.
“However, genome-intact proviral DNA and replication-competent viruses can readily be isolated in these persons by using in vitro laboratory assays, indicating that drug-free viral control in these persons results from host-dependent inhibition of viral replication and does not reflect elimination of all virally infected cells. “
The woman gave birth to a healthy child without HIV
The woman appearing to have achieved “complete clearance of all replication-competent HIV-1 proviruses during natural infection”. Since the first diagnosis of HIV, the woman has started taking antiretroviral drugs (ART) on a regular basis. She stopped taking these drugs in 2019-2020 because she was pregnant. She gave birth to a completely healthy child who is HIV negative and subsequently stopped ART treatment. After undergoing a series of tests, she showed no signs of an active virus.
“What distinguishes her from all other described elite controllers and post-treatment controllers is the absence of detectable intact HIV-1 proviruses and replication-competent HIV-1 viral particles in large numbers of cells,” the researchers write.
In the past, researchers have encountered a similar case in a California patient who has shown no signs of the virus for decades.
“Does this imply that our patient has developed a sterilizing cure during natural infection? We believe this is likely, but it cannot be done,” the researchers explain.
“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 prov that anybody has achieved a sterilizing cure.”
There may be more cases of cured patients
The researchers tried to find any traces of HIV in the Argentine patient’s body, but in vain. The possibilities of the human body are probably often underestimated. The HIV antibody test first showed that it was HIV positive, but there was no level of the virus in the body.
“It means there must be more people like this out there,” senior author and HIV researcher Natalia Laufer from Universidad de Buenos Aires told the media when initial results of the case were shared earlier in the year.
There are large numbers of people with HIV around the world, not all of whom have access to medical care and medication. It is possible that there are even more cases in the world in which people have recovered from this disease, but it has not been possible to document it. These cases are important for scientists because they allow them to better understand how the body works and what its possibilities are.