First child cured of HIV gives new hopes

Scientists get new hopes by reports about a two-year child who was diagnosed with HIV and then cured of the virus

GARY HE/AP IMAGE Fortunata Kasege (on the left), an HIV positive mother from Tanzania, and her HIV free daughter Florida Mwesiga (on the right) highlight with 1,000 balloons the number of children born with HIV every day and call for World Leaders meeting in New York to ensure no child is born with HIV by 2015
GARY HE/AP IMAGE
Fortunata Kasege (on the left), an HIV positive mother from Tanzania, and her HIV free daughter Florida Mwesiga (on the right) highlight with 1,000 balloons the number of children born with HIV every day and call for World Leaders meeting in New York to ensure no child is born with HIV by 2015

Artur Tofan
Current Affairs Editor

Scientists and doctors around the world get encouragement and new clues in their efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children after the announcement at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on March 3, 2013, that a baby from Mississippi born with the Human Deficiency Virus (HIV) was the first to be “officially” cured.

Doctors can effectively prevent transmission of HIV from the infected mothers to newborns by treating the carrying mothers with antiviral drugs and giving the newborns a six-week prevention treatment. However, in this case the mother was tested and diagnosed as HIV-positive when already in labor and did not undergo any prenatal treatment.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able do to prevent transmission to the baby,” said Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center who was involved in the game-changing research.

Doctors came up with a plan B by giving the newborn girl an aggressive three-drug cocktail treatment 30 hours after she was delivered and continued the treatment regimen for 18 consecutive months until the mother stopped bringing the child to the hospital. When they returned to the hospital doctors ordered new tests expecting to see a high concentration of active virus cells. However, further DNA tests showed that there was no detectable trace of the virus left in the child’s body.

“This is the very first case in which we’ve conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then after a period of treatment has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound,” said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts who worked closely with Gay.

In 2011, the United Nations AIDS agency (UNAIDS) reported that 330,000 children around the world had been infected with HIV at birth and many experts agree that this case will prompt further research and will raise pressure to step up programs to get pregnant women and their newborns tested earlier.

“Given that this cure appears to have been achieved by antiretroviral therapy alone,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, vice president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) and director of research, “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.”

The only other documented case of an HIV cure to date remains that of Timothy Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient.” In 2006, while on treatment for HIV, Brown was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent a stem-cell transplant from a person who was born with a rare genetic mutation causing immunity to HIV infection. Following the transplant, Brown stopped HIV treatment after the transplant and within weeks tests showed that he was HIV-free.

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