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Scientists begin ambitious plan to cure HIV-infected babies

Scientists begin ambitious plan to cure HIV-infected babies

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A second baby infected with HIV at birth is being called "HIV-negative" by her doctors, following an aggressive drug treatment administered during her first hours of life. The announcement was made today at an AIDS conference in Boston, a little over a year after a first child was "functionally cured" of HIV.

Call her "HIV-negative" and "sero-reverted"

The baby received a high dose of AZT, 3TC, and nevirapine — three types of antiretroviral drugs that are commonly used to treat adults and not newborns. Like the first child cured of HIV, the second baby is currently free of the retrovirus. Her doctors are hesitant to use terms like "cured," however, because she's still taking antiretrovirals. They're opting to call her "HIV-negative" and "sero-reverted" instead. That hesitation might be because the scientists who made the announcement about the first child later recanted, calling it a remission.

But the researchers' second announcement might have the biggest impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS: this team of scientists are now planning to conduct a trial in which 50 babies, all born with HIV, will receive the same aggressive treatment within 48 hours of their birth. The trial will begin within the next three months, reports The New York Times.

Yet the experiment might be hard to pull off if it's conducted in the US, because few American children are born with HIV. Instead, mothers are often put on drugs that prevent them from passing the virus to their children. This was supposed to be the case for the second HIV-negative baby, but the child's mother neglected to take the drugs that doctors prescribed.

Even if the trial is successful, it will be a long time before doctors change the way children born with HIV are treated in hospitals around the world. Researchers will need to monitor these children closely for years to ensure that the virus doesn't return. Given the care with which scientists are approaching this issue, it's possible that other recent advancements, such as genetically engineered white blood cells, might make it to the finish line sooner.