By Mirembe Martina
An HIV cure has been on the lips of scientists since the virus hit the world and it seems there is a break through after all.
In Mississippi, a baby girl was born and tested HIV positive. Upon delivery, she was administered with the standard HIV drugs and on Sunday, tests were run and found out she no longer had the virus.
U.S. researchers reported on Sunday that an HIV cure in the young might as well be around the corner. This is the first time a child is said to have been cured of the deadly virus. Standard blood tests show no signs that the virus is making copies of itself as is the case usually although more tests have to be run to see if indeed there is a cure of the virus in children. “This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta. “We believe this is our Timothy Brown case to spur research interest toward a cure for HIV infection in children,” she went on to add.
Dr. Persaud was referring to Timothy Ray Brown, a “Berlin patient,” who was allegedly cured of the HIV infection after an elaborate treatment for leukemia in 2007 which required the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection.
The baby girl, whose identity was revealed was born in July 2010 just after her mother had just tested positive for HIV infection and had not received any prenatal HIV treatment. Doctors knew the child was at high risk of infection and immediately 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.
Dr. Gay put her on a cocktail of three HIV-fighting drugs – zidovudine (also known as AZT), lamivudine, and nevirapine 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.
After starting on treatment, the baby’s immune system responded and tests showed diminishing levels of the virus until it was undetectable 29 days after birth. The baby received regular treatment for 18 months, but then stopped coming to appointments for a period of about 10 months, when her mother said she was not given any treatment. The child later came back under the care of Dr. Gay and standard blood tests were taken. The first blood test did not turn up any detectible levels of HIV; neither did the second and tests for HIV-specific antibodies, the standard clinical indicator of HIV infection, also remained negative.
“At that point, I knew I was dealing with a very unusual case,” Dr. Gay said.