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'Hope patient' from Argentina possibly cured of HIV after her body fought it off

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A 30-year-old HIV patient from Esperanza, Argentina, is being called a "hope patient" by researchers after her own body fought off the deadly disease and appears to be cured.

This patient is only the second person known to researchers whose immune system was capable of achieving a "sterilizing cure" for the human immunodeficiency virus without receiving regular treatment for her infection. According to CNN, the woman is a rare "elite controller" of the virus who, after she was first diagnosed eight years ago, now shows no signs of intact virus in her body.

The patient's case was reported by researchers in the Annals of Internal Medicine. She was first diagnosed with HIV in March 2013. She did not start an antiretroviral treatment until 2019, when she became pregnant and was treated with the drugs tenofovir, emtricitabine, and raltegravir for six months during her second and third trimesters. When she gave birth in 2020, her baby was HIV-negative.

Researchers analyzed blood samples taken from the woman between 2017 and 2020. More than 1.2 billion of her blood cells were searched and 500 million placenta-tissue cells searched after she gave birth. Although there was evidence that she had been infected with HIV before, researchers could not find an intact virus that was capable of replicating in her body. All they found were seven defective proviruses — a form of virus that is integrated into the genetic material of a host cell as part of the replication cycle, CNN reports.

"A sterilizing cure for HIV has previously only been observed in two patients who received a highly toxic bone marrow transplant. Our study shows that such a cure can also be reached during natural infection -- in the absence of bone marrow transplants (or any type of treatment at all)," said Dr. Xu Yu, an author of the study.

"Examples of such a cure that develops naturally suggest that current efforts to find a cure for HIV infection are not elusive, and that the prospects of getting to an 'AIDS-free generation' may ultimately be successful," Yu told CNN in an email.

Researchers are not entirely sure how the woman's body was able to cure itself of HIV, but "we think it's a combination of different immune mechanisms -- cytotoxic T cells are likely involved, innate immune mechanism may also have contributed," Yu said.

They are hopeful that studying this patient's immune response could lead to new treatments or even a cure for the 38 million people around the world living with HIV infection.

"Expanding the numbers of individuals with possible sterilizing cure status would facilitate our discovery of the immune factors that lead to this sterilizing cure in broader population of HIV infected individuals," said Yu.

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