The child’s story is the first account of an infant achieving a so-called functional cure, a rare event in which a person achieves remission without the need for drugs and standard blood tests show no signs that the virus is making copies of itself.
More testing needs to be done to see if the treatment would have the same effect on other children, but the results could change the way high-risk babies are treated and possibly lead to a cure for children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” said Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
Researchers believe this early use of antiviral treatment likely resulted in the infant’s cure by keeping the virus from forming hard-to-treat pools of cells known as viral reservoirs, which lie dormant and out of the reach of standard medications. These reservoirs rekindle HIV infection in patients who stop therapy, and they are the reason most HIV-infected individuals need lifelong treatment to keep the infection at bay.
After starting on treatment, the baby’s immune system responded and tests showed levels of the virus were diminishing until it was undetectable 29 days after birth.