A team of scientists has reported the case of a 30-year-old Argentine woman whose own immune system may have naturally eliminated HIV. Although people capable of controlling this infection had previously been identified, eliminating it was considered almost impossible.
The patient, identified as “Esperanza” by the name of the city where she lives (Esperanza, Santa Fe province), was diagnosed with HIV for the first time in 2013. However, despite not having received any type of treatment, now she has not has no trace of the virus in his blood.
Researchers are surprised by this outcome, since HIV has the ability to stay in the body for life.
This virus places long-lasting copies of its genome in the DNA of human cells. In this way, create what is known as viral reservoirs a method that allows you to hide from the attack of drugs and the body’s immune response. At the same time, the viral genome directs cells to produce new HIV particles.
What antiretroviral therapies (ART) do is neutralize this production of new viruses, but they cannot eliminate the reservoirs. Therefore, it is necessary that patients take daily medication to control the infection.
The team led by Xu Yu, a viral immunologist at the Ragon Institute in Boston, focused on the study of people who are able to control the infection without the need for medication. Also called elite controllers This select group represents 0.5% of HIV patients in the world.
In one of them, the patient Esperanza, they observed something even more surprising: in addition to having controlled the infection, it did not produce new viruses.
They took samples of his blood, and examined more than 1.19 billion blood cells and 500 million tissue cells. They found no intact HIV genomes. In other words, there was no reservoir capable of producing new viruses.
The authors wrote in their paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that their finding “suggests that this patient may have naturally achieved a sterilizing cure for HIV infection.”
“It is really the miracle of the immune system that did it,” exclaimed Xu Yu in statements to the US network NBC.
Until now, only one case of natural removal of all traces of the virus had been documented.
The identification of this second case “indicates that there may be a viable path to a sterilizing cure for people who do not have this ability,” said Yu, who is also a medical investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Scientists have yet to understand how the bodies of both patients have achieved this effective elimination of HIV. For the moment, they suggest that a specific response from immune cells called killer T lymphocytes may be involved.
In a statement from the MHG, it is indicated that understanding the mechanisms responsible for this immune response could allow the development of treatments that teach the immune systems of other people to eliminate all traces of HIV.
“Now we are looking for the possibility of inducing, through vaccination, this type of immunity in people who are taking antiretroviral therapy, with the aim of educating their immune systems so that they can control the virus without the need for therapy,” Yu added.