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Scientists say child has been 'functionally cured' of HIV infection with early treatment

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HIV budding
HIV budding

Medical researchers announced today that, for the first time, a child born with HIV appears to have been cured. Doctors are hopeful that the results may be replicated and used to treat infants infected by pregnancy or delivery in the first few days of life.

Despite ending treatment the child now has no identifiable levels of HIV

According to the National Institutes of Health, a two-year old child born with HIV — the virus responsible for AIDS — is now "functionally cured" of the infection following the early administration of antiretroviral therapy. Doctors initially detected small levels of the virus in the baby, concluding that the infection occurred before the infant's premature birth in July 2010, and began treatment of a liquid antiretroviral around 30 hours of age. The infant's HIV-infected mother reportedly had received no antiretroviral medication or prenatal care, and was unaware she had been infected with the virus. After 18 months of treatment, the child was taken off therapy "for reasons that are unclear," but doctors say that despite ending treatment the child now has no identifiable levels of HIV in the body.

Scientists say it's an unprecedented development; according to NIH, it's the first well-documented case of an HIV-infected child who has been cured of the infection. According to The New York Times, the lead author on today's report, Dr. Deborah Persaud of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, says that "it's proof of principle that we can cure HIV infection if we can replicate this case." Persaud says that "for pediatrics, this is our Timothy Brown," in reference to the only other person known to have been cured of HIV. Brown, an adult, was cured via a risky bone-marrow transplant that's difficult to replicate.

"We may have a promising lead for additional research toward curing other children."

While the results are stunning and promising, the researchers in the study say that further research will be required to know whether this child's experience can be replicated in clinical trials with other HIV-infected children. The New York Times reports that some experts need additional information, including confirmation that the baby had actually been infected, to determine if the case involved a cure or prevention of infection — prevention that can already be done for babies with infected mothers. The Times notes that unlike the expensive and dangerous treatment given to Timothy Brown, the aggressive pediatric treatment announced today could become "a new standard of care."

"Despite the fact that research has given us the tools to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, many infants are unfortunately still born infected," said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD. "With this case, it appears we may have not only a positive outcome for the particular child, but also a promising lead for additional research toward curing other children."