HIV: Second person may have been ‘cured’ of infection naturally

AIDS or Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a disease that has brought the modern medicine fraternity to its knees. A study published in the Annals of Medicine has reported that they have found a second patient whose body seemingly had rid itself of HIV that causes AIDS.


While the patient remains anonymous, the study points to her as a 30-year-old hailing from the Argentinian town of Esperanza. She has become the second person ever, to be documented for being completely cured of the HIV infection that causes AIDS. The study was led by Dr. Xu Yu, an immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston, and Dr. Natalia Laufer, a scientist at INBIRS Institute in Argentina.


As a disease, AIDS affects the human immune cells, deteriorating the body’s ability to fight off other infections. What makes HIV so hard to control is our difficulty in completely removing the virus from the human body. HIV can affect a type of immune cells called viral reservoirs. These have a longer life span than other types of immune cells. HIV leaves its viral DNA encoded inside these viral reservoirs, thus hiding it from our existing anti-retroviral treatment. In other words, HIV genetic material hides among these immune cells during treatment and comes back later on to produce more viral cells.


Anti-retroviral treatments can only attack the virus that presents inside infected cells are actively churning out new copies of the HIV. So far, scientists have been able to cure only two patients through medical procedures using highly dangerous stem cell transplants.


In the new study, researchers note that the woman’s immune cells were able to identify HIV-infected cells and destroy them completely. They were surprised to see that whatever viral DNA that was left in the system is effectively harmless as they cannot facilitate the creation of more HIV viruses.


The team behind the study had started studying this patient in 2019. Over the course of the research, even after using high-end DNA sequencing, the team couldn’t find any intact viral sequence in the patient’s body. The patient also mother a child in March 2020 and the baby is also reported to be HIV negative.


The first documented, who have cured AIDS without medical intervention was Loreen Willenberg. The 67-year-old Californian was tested positive for the disease in 1992. Apparently in her case too the body’s immune system has completely destroyed all virus-infected cells, leaving no trace.


The research team believes that in both these cases, the patients might have responded to the HIV virus through a killer T-cell capable of completely cleansing the body. While the team hasn’t been able to identify why or how that happened, the hope is to figure out the nuances and replicate the mechanism in therapeutic treatments.


Until now, experts in the fields have been trying to fight HIV from multiple perspectives through different methods. These include the usage of gene therapy, to keep the virus trapped inside the cells to avoid propagation and vaccination programs to boost the body’s immune response to the virus.


If subsequent research can shine a light on how exactly the two individuals recovered from the deadly disease, that would help more than 38 million people who are affected by AIDS across the world.





Leave a Reply