Scientists report finding a second person to be ‘naturally’ cured of HIV, raising hopes for future treatments

One evening in March 2020, a doctor walked out of a hospital in the Argentine city of Esperanza cradling a styrofoam cooler. He handed it to a young man who’d been waiting outside for hours, who nestled it securely in his car and sped off. His destination, a biomedical research institute in Buenos Aires, was 300 miles away, and he only had until midnight to reach it. That day, while his sister was inside the hospital giving birth to her first child, Argentina’s president had ordered a national lockdown to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, including strict controls on entering and leaving the nation’s capital. If the brother didn’t make it, the contents of the cooler — more than 500 million cells from his sister’s placenta — would be lost, along with any secrets they might be holding.

The woman was a scientific curiosity. Despite being diagnosed with HIV in 2013, she’d never shown any signs of illness. And traditional tests failed to turn up evidence that the virus was alive and replicating in her body. Only the presence of antibodies suggested she’d ever been infected. Since 2017 researchers in Argentina and in Massachusetts had been collecting blood samples from her, meticulously scanning the DNA of more than a billion cells, searching for signs that the virus was still hiding out, dormant, ready to roar to life if the conditions were right. They wanted to do the same with her placenta because even though it’s an organ of the fetus, it’s loaded with maternal immune cells — a target-rich environment to mine for stealth viruses.

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