Second person ‘naturally cures themselves’ of HIV and lifts hope for millions

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The second person to be naturally cure their HIV has been identified, bringing hope to the 38 million people living with the infection worldwide.

The patient, who is a woman in her 30s living in the city of Esperanza in Argentina, was found to have no disease-causing or "intact" virus.

Dr Natalia Laufer, the patient's doctor and an HIV researcher in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, said: "Finding one patient with his natural ability for functional cure (no virus that can reproduce) is good, but finding two means so much more.

"It means there must be more people like this out there.

"This is a significant leap forward in the world of HIV cure research. Upon diagnosis, her tests surprised us all."

The potentially landmark discovery follows other findings from Harvard-based scientists and was announced at a major international meeting of HIV experts.

The woman, identified only as the "Esperanza patient", received her diagnosis in 2013.

Her boyfriend died of Aids.

Dr Laufer said: "She is a healthy, athletic and beautiful woman and has recently had a baby." Her present boyfriend and baby are both HIV negative.

The first patient shown to have no intact virus, 67-year-old Loreen Willenberg from San Francisco, was identified last August.

The two women are extreme examples of a group of people, known as elite controllers, who have never taken antiretroviral therapy but still show no signs of the virus in their blood.

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Normally when a body's immune cells are infected with the virus, it gets into the cells' DNA and reproduces from there.

But for elite controllers, who number about 1 in 200 patients, most of their virus settles into inactive parts of the genome where they do nothing.

The immune system clears up the remaining virus.

Professor Xu Yu, an HIV researcher at the Ragon Institute, Harvard Medical School, who was presenting the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, said: "Previous cases of so-called cure have involved high-risk stem cell transplants in patients with terminal cancer.

"This new understanding around what happens to the virus in elite patients opens a door to a potential cure."

The work provides the most convincing evidence yet that scientists are making significant progress to cure the condition.

  • Science

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