Scientists Say Girl Born With HIV Has Been Cured, Call It “A Game-Changer”

hiv t cellAt a conference in Atlanta, researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center reported that they had successfully cured a young girl born with HIV.

Pregnant women with HIV are given antiviral drugs which can increase the odds that they deliver a HIV-negative baby. But the mother of the unnamed infant, now 2, didn’t receive any prenatal care.

Normally that would mean a lifetime of  antiviral drugs for the girl, but pediatric infectious-disease specialist Hannah Gay tried something different:

Gay decided to begin treating the child immediately, with the first dose of antivirals given within 31 hours of birth. That’s faster than most infants born with HIV get treated, and specialists think it’s one important factor in the child’s cure.

In addition, Gay gave higher-than-usual, “therapeutic” doses of three powerful HIV drugs rather than the “prophylactic” doses usually given in these circumstances.

Over the months, the baby thrived and standard tests could detect no virus in her blood, which is the normal result from antiviral treatment.

Gay never intended to take her off the medications, but the mother stopped bringing her in for checkups. “I saw her at 18 months, and then after that did not see her for several months,” Gay tells NPR. “And we were unable to locate her for a while.”

Health authorities helped find the girl, whose mother had stopped giving her the medication seven months prior. Amazingly, when the toddler was tested she came back HIV-negative.

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, who was called in to help confirm the results, calls this a functional cure—”the control of viral replication and lack of rebound once they come off anti-retroviral medications.”

While there’s a lot of work to still be done before the treatment can be applied to the 330,00o children born HIV-positive every year, the cure is “definitely a game-changer,” says Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Deborah Persaud, who presented the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections this weekend. “This case is sort of the inspiration and provides the rationale to really move forward.”

Photo: NIAID