In what can be called as a major breakthrough in the world of medical science ever, scientists claim to have “functionally cure” for the first time a two-year-old baby girl in the US born with HIV.
US Researchers said they believe early intervention – in this case within 30 hours of birth – with three anti-viral drugs was key to the outcome.
A “functional cure” is when the presence of the virus is so small, life-long treatment is not necessary and standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.
The finding was announced at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta. Dr Deborah Persaud, lead researcher and a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, presented the findings at the Conference.
The results of the findings could possibly lead to a cure for children infected with HIV.
The unidentified girl from Mississippi was born HIV-positive to a mother who received no prenatal care and was not diagnosed as HIV-positive herself until just before delivery.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able do to prevent transmission to the baby,” said Dr Hannah Gay.
Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said that the timing of intervention in this case, before the baby was diagnosed HIV-positive, may deserve “more emphasis than the particular drugs or number of drugs used.”
“We are hoping that future studies will show that very early institution of effective therapy will result in this same outcome consistently,” she said.
“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” she said.
In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown became the first person in the world believed to have recovered from HIV.
His infection was eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukaemia 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.
In contrast, the case of the Mississippi baby involved a cocktail of widely available drugs already used to treat HIV infection in infants.
It suggests the treatment wiped out HIV before it could form hideouts in the body.
These so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly re-infect anyone who stops medication, Persaud said.
Dr Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts who worked closely with Gay, called the developments fascinating, including the fact that the toddler was found to have no virus in her blood even after her mother stopped giving her treatment for eight to 10 months.