Researchers Are Working On ‘Curing’ Dozens Of Babies Born With HIV

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A California baby born with HIV appears to be free of the virus after a course of early and aggressive treatment with antiretroviral drugs, scientists revealed at an AIDS conference in Boston on Wednesday. This is the second reported case of a child born with the virus responding positively to early, preventative treatment — and researchers plan to expand the treatment method in a clinical trial of up to 60 babies in the coming months.

Last fall, doctors announced that a Mississippi baby who contracted HIV in utero had been HIV-free for a year and a half despite no longer taking medications for HIV. The child was given an aggressive course of drug therapy within 30 hours of being born, before doctors even had a chance to check on her HIV status.

“We want to be very cautious here,” said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an HIV/AIDS expert with the University of Massachusetts who helped treat the baby, in an October interview with NBC News. “We’re calling it remission because we’d like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there’s no rebound.”

Despite cautious optimism, many in the scientific community worried that the case was a fluke. But the apparently successful treatment of a second child — and further confirmation on Wednesday that the Mississippi baby is still showing no signs of infection — has doctors believing that the early prevention approach could hold major promise for the approximately quarter-million babies born HIV-positive every year.

“This could lead to major changes, for two reasons,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, executive director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during the conference. “Both for the welfare of the child, and because it is a huge proof of concept that you can cure someone if you can treat them early enough.”

The newly-announced clinical trial will target dozens of HIV-positive babies and place them on drug therapy within 48 hours of birth.

Wednesday’s news is particularly heartening considering that a similar treatment method used on two HIV-positive adults — wherein the men were treated with high doses of antiretroviral drugs while simultaneously undergoing bone marrow stem cell transplants — was unable to prevent a resurgence in the virus despite early signs that it was working.