Doctors at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Mississippi, US, have effected a "functional cure" of a baby born HIV positive.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, led by paediatric HIV expert Dr Deborah Persaud say that a baby born with HIV has been cured.
When the child was born, the report states, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was administered within 30 hours, triggering remission. Usually with ART, the virus retreats into viral reservoirs; that is, it goes dormant, to re-emerge when the ART ceases.
In the case of the infant in question, it is believed that early treatment prevented the virus from forming these reservoirs, leading to a "functional cure".
What this means is that the virus is undetected by standard clinical tests — but ultrasensitive equipment will still detect HIV in the child's blood. This is not the same as a "sterilisation cure", which obliterates the virus completely — like the case of Timothy Ray Brown, who was cured after a bone marrow transplant.
After beginning treatment in the first 30 hours of its life, the baby went into remission, with the virus undetectable by the time she was 29 days old. It remained in remission until 18 months of age, when the mother stopped bringing her in for treatment. When they returned 10 months later, the virus was still undetected in the child's blood.
While this treatment will not be effective on older children or adults, it could be revolutionary in treating infants at birth — if this single case doesn't prove to be an anomaly.
Dr Persaud said, "Our next step is to find out if this is a highly unusual response to very early antiretroviral therapy, or something we can actually replicate in other high-risk newborns."
Doctor Hannah Gay, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who treated the baby, added that the best method of lowering the incidence on infant HIV remains preventing mother-to-child transmission.