Yesterday, doctors announced that they had, for the first time, cured a baby who was born with HIV, an incredible achievement that could lead to more aggressive treatments used on babies born with HIV and a reduction of the number of children living with the virus that causes AIDS. Dr. Deborah Persaud, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and lead author of the report on the baby, said, “It’s proof of principle that we can cure HIV infection if we can replicate this case.’’ Once the doctors’ report has been confirmed, the baby would be only the second documented case of an HIV patient being cured. (The first was a middle-aged man with leukemia named Timothy Brown, who received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor genetically resistant to H.I.V. infection.)
Experts who are not affiliated with the John Hopkins’ report say they need further evidence that the baby was actually infected with HIV by its mother, who did not she had HIV until she was at the hospital giving birth. Dr. Persaud and her colleagues say that the child tested positive five times in its first month of life. Antiretroviral drug treatment started 30 hours after birth, much earlier than treatment normally starts for babies born to HIV+ mothers. According to The New York Times, “once the treatment started, the virus levels in the baby’s blood declined in the pattern characteristic of infected patients,” indicating that the baby was infected and that the treatment was working.
Virus levels continued to decline to the point where it was undetectable when the child was 18 months old. The mother didn’t bring the baby back to the hospital for another five months for treatment, at which point doctors expected to see increased viral loads — they were shocked when tests came back negative. The only explanation is that the baby had been cured of the virus or had never been officially positive in the first place, in which case the treatment worked as a preventative measure and killed off the virus before it could lie dormant in so-called hidden “reservoirs” in the baby’s body. Further studies are being planned to see if early testing and aggressive treatment can work for other babies.
Talk about a truly exciting development in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We’ll have our eye on this story for sure. [NY Times]