Doctors in Massachusetts believe they may have found a “cure” for HIV after a baby born with the virus, which she contracted from her mother, shows no signs of HIV— even after 18 months without medication. However, the New England doctors are being cautious not to use the term “cure” prematurely.
“We want to be very cautious here,” said University of Massachusetts HIV/AIDS expert, Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga. “We’re calling it remission because we’d like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there’s no rebound.”
“¨The child was born in rural Mississippi to a mother who was unaware of her HIV positive status. Concerned that the child may have contracted the virus in the womb, doctors began administering anti-HIV drugs within the first thirty hours after her birth, not even allowing enough time to confirm the child’s HIV positive status—though it later was. Last march, the doctors first announced that the baby girl showed no symptoms of HIV, and she had been seemingly cured.
The treatment route for the child may certainly inspire additional, extensive research on the benefits and methods of early and aggressive treatment for HIV patients. In July, it was announced that two HIV-positive cancer patients, who had been taking antiretroviral drugs while simultaneously receiving bone marrow stem cell treatments, went into remission for three years. However, they resumed treatment this summer.
To date, there are 34 million HIV infected people, and a UN estimate believes 330,000 babies were newly infected in 2011. Should the care provided for the Mississippi-born baby girl treated in Massachusetts prove effective in other newborns as well, it could be a tremendous breakthrough.
Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci—the government’s top AIDS researcher and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—agrees that there should be great caution in labeling this development as a “cure” for HIV.
“At minimum, the baby is in a clear remission,” said Fauci. “It is possible that the baby has actually been cured. We don’t have a definition for cure as we do for certain cancers, where after five years or so you can be relatively certain the person is not going to go and relapse.”
Only one other person has ever been considered to be fundamentally “cured” of HIV: Timothy Brown, a San Francisco man being treated in Berlin, who underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2007 and showed no signs of infection even five years afterward.
The Mississippi baby’s virus became undetectable after just a month of treatment, though her care was continued for a full 18 months at the request of her parents. When doctors saw her again 10 months later, she still showed no sign of infection despite having discontinued her medication.
A government-sponsored international study on the early treatment of HIV infected babies is set to begin in January. Researchers hope to duplicate the results attained in Massachusetts.