March 3, 2013 11:51 pm

US doctors say child cured of HIV

US doctors have announced the first documented case of a child being cured of HIV infection.

Deborah Persaud, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, described the landmark finding to the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on Sunday.

A two-year-old child in Mississippi, whose name and sex were not disclosed, was diagnosed with HIV at birth and immediately put on a cocktail of three antiviral drugs.

The child stopped taking antiretroviral medication at 18 months. At 23 months, after taking no drugs for five months, a series of tests showed that the child was not carrying any detectable HIV.

Rowena Johnston, director of research at amfAR, the Foundation for Aids Research, said: “The child’s paediatrician in Mississippi was aware of the work we were doing and quickly notified our team as soon as this young patient’s case came to her attention.”

The only other documented case of an HIV cure to date remains that of Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient”. In 2006, while being treated for HIV, Mr Brown was diagnosed with leukaemia. His doctors wiped out his own immune system and gave him a stem cell transplant from a donor who carried a rare genetic mutation conferring immunity to HIV infection.

Following the transplant Mr Brown, who is in his 40s, was able to stop treatment without experiencing a return of his HIV infection. He reportedly remains free of infection.

The case caused a sensation because HIV normally embeds itself deeply within the patient’s immune system and is impossible to eradicate, though symptoms of disease can be controlled well with antiviral drugs.

The new report suggests that there may be different ways of removing the virus from HIV-positive people. While Mr Brown underwent a complex, risky and expensive series of procedures, the infant seems to have been cured by a relatively inexpensive course of drugs.

“Given that this cure appears to have been achieved by antiretroviral therapy alone, it is also imperative that we learn more about a newborn’s immune system, how it differs from an adult’s and what factors made it possible for the child to be cured,” said Dr Johnston.

The Mississippi case also underscores the importance of identifying HIV-positive pregnant women, expanding access to treatment regimens than can prevent mother-to-child transmission and of immediately putting infected babies on antiretroviral therapy.

“The case is a startling reminder that a cure for HIV could come in ways we never anticipated and we hope this is the first of many children cured of HIV in the months and years to come,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR chief executive.  

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