Boston, March 6: When scientists made the stunning announcement last year that a baby born with HIV had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment just 30 hours after birth, there was immediate scepticism that the child had been infected in the first place.
But yesterday, the existence of a second such baby was revealed at an AIDS conference here, leaving little doubt that the treatment works. And a clinical trial in which up to 60 babies who are born infected will be put on drugs within 48 hours is set to begin soon, another researcher added.
If that trial works — and it will take several years of following the babies to determine whether it has — the protocol for treating all 250,000 babies born infected each year worldwide will no doubt be rewritten.
“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. “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 announcement was the third piece of hopeful news in two days about the virus that causes AIDS.
On Tuesday, scientists reported that injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs fended off infection in monkeys, and yesterday, researchers announced a “gene editing” advance that might enable immune cells to repel the virus.
The Mississippi child, now more than 3 years old, is still virus-free, said Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist who has run ultrasensitive tests on both children in her lab at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in Baltimore.
The second baby, a girl born at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, California, is now 9 months old and apparently free of the virus that causes AIDS.
Her mother, who has advanced AIDS and is mentally ill, arrived in labour; she had been prescribed drugs to protect her baby but had not taken them. Four hours after the birth, a pediatrician, Dr Audra Deveikis, drew blood for an HIV test and immediately started the baby on three drugs — AZT, 3TC and nevirapine — at the high doses usually used for treatment of the virus.
The Long Beach baby is now in foster care, she said. The mother is still alive as well. It is incorrect to describe the baby as “cured” or even as “in remission” because she is still on the drugs.