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Report: California Woman Living With HIV for Decades May Be Cured


The cells of a 66-year-old woman are completely clear of the virus, researchers say.

A California woman diagnosed with HIV in 1992 may be cured of the disease, according to a report in Nature and reported in The New York Times. While others have been "cured" of HIV, Loreen Willenberg suppressed the virus without medications or an invasive bone marrow transplant.

Researchers studied "elite controllers," the small group of people living with HIV (about one percent) who can survive without antiretroviral treatment. Researchers speculate that for some people, the HIV virus exists in parts of an individual's DNA or genome but can no longer replicate. In Willenberg's case though, researchers evaluated 1.5 billion of her blood cells and found no trace of the virus, even within the genomes.

“She could be added to the list of what I think is a cure, through a very different path,” Dr. Sharon Lewin of Melbourne told the Times.

Others who have been declared cured of HIV include the so-called London and Berlin patients, who underwent bone marrow transplants that altered their immune systems. A man in Brazil may have also been cured of HIV through various medications, but there is dispute over whether his body truly banished the virus.

While some doctors are reluctant to declare Willenberg "cured" of HIV, they believe her results are impressive. Scientists hope to harness more information about people who suppress HIV even after going off antiretroviral treatment — such results, which occur in about 10 percent of people with HIV, are often bolstered when people take antiretrovirals soon after contracting the virus.

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Neal Broverman