According to a UMMC press release, a research partnership shared between the medical center, John Hopkins Children’s Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical School has reported “the first case of a so-called ‘functional cure’ in an HIV-infected infant.”
The report was presented today at the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Atlanta. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Foundation for AIDS Research and was led by by Johns Hopkins virologist Dr. Deborah Persaud and UMMS immunologist Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga.
Pediatric HIV specialist Dr. Hannah Gay, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center provided treatment to the baby which was surveyed over an 18-month period.
The baby was born to an HIV-positive mother and underwent remission for the infection after receiving antiretroviral therapy within 30 hours of birth- deeming it “functionally cured” according to researchers.
The investigators say the prompt administration of antiviral treatment likely led to this infant’s cure by stopping dormant cells responsible for reigniting the infection in most HIV patients.
While remission occurred in the baby, researchers say they have yet to achieve a total eradication of the virus.
“Complete viral eradication on a large scale is our long-term goal but, for now, remains out of reach, and our best chance may come from aggressive, timely and precisely targeted use of antiviral therapies in high-risk newborns as a way to achieve functional cure,” Luzuriaga says.
The team says that prompt antiviral therapy that starts soon after exposure may help infants clear the virus and have long-term remission without needing lifelong treatment. –Also in the report
- Specialists say natural viral suppression without treatment is an exceedingly rare phenomenon observed in less than half a percent of HIV-infected adults, known as “elite controllers,” whose immune systems are able to rein in viral replication and keep the virus at clinically undetectable levels. HIV experts have long sought a way to help all HIV patients achieve elite-controller status. The new case, the researchers say, may be that long-sought game-changer because it suggests prompt ART in newborns can do just that.
- The investigators caution they don’t have enough data to recommend change right now to the current practice of treating high-risk infants with prophylactic, rather than therapeutic, doses but the infant’s case provides the rationale to start proof-of-principle studies in all high-risk newborns.
“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,” says Persaud.
Despite the promise this approach holds for infected newborns, the researchers say preventing mother-to-child transmission remains the primary goal. “Prevention really is the best cure, and we already have proven strategies that can prevent 98 percent of newborn infections by identifying and treating HIV-positive pregnant women,” says Gay, the HIV expert who treated the infant.
Source: University of Mississippi Medical Center
VIDEO: University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatric professor Dr. Hannah Gay talks about childhood HIV and the school’s recent team research to find a cure.