In what's being called a "functional cure," doctors say a Mississippi girl born with HIV who received aggressive, early treatment now shows no signs of the virus that causes AIDS.
Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, worked with researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Center on girl's treatment.
"This is the very first case in which we've conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then after a period of treatment has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound," Luzuriaga told CNN.
When the baby girl was born in a rural hospital in July 2010, her mother had just tested positive for HIV infection. Because her mother had not received any prenatal HIV treatment, doctors knew the child was at high risk of infection. They transferred her to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, where she came under the care of Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist.
Because of her risk, Dr. Gay put the infant on a cocktail of three HIV-fighting drugs when she was just 30 hours old. Two blood tests done within the first 48 hours of the child's life confirmed her infection and she was kept on the full treatment regimen, according to Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist with Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
"This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants," Persaud said. She is lead author of a report presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
More testing needs to be done to see if the treatment would have the same effect on other children, but the results could change the way high-risk babies are treated and possibly lead to a cure for children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"On the ultra-sensitive testing, we are occasionally getting signals so we cannot say with certainty that this child is absolutely clear of HIV, but we will continue to follow up with the baby," Luzuriaga told CNN. "We have formed a hypothesis and that is already driving the design of new studies and clinical trials that will help us to answer the question of whether by coming in very early we will be able to treat children for a while and then remove them from therapy."
The child's story is different from the now famous case of Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called "Berlin patient," whose HIV infection was completely eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukemia in 2007 that involved the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection.
"We believe this is our Timothy Brown case to spur research interest toward a cure for HIV infection in children," Persaud said at a news conference.
With additional reporting by Reuters.
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