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Researchers Describe 1st 'Functional Cure' of HIV in Baby

More studies needed to see if it's really a breakthrough in fight against AIDS

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No one is absolutely sure why this child achieved a "functional" cure -- meaning the virus is in remission even without medications. But investigators believe that giving antiviral treatment so early in life meant the virus had no time to create viral "reservoirs" where dormant HIV cells can linger for years before becoming active again.

"For us this is a very exciting finding," said Persaud. "By treating a baby very early [we may be able to] prevent viral reservoirs or cells that stay around for a lifetime of an infected person."

But Dr. Michael Horberg, chair of the HIV Medicine Association and director of HIV/AIDS at Kaiser Permanente, stressed that this was a "functional cure and not a cure in the most classic sense of the word."

"If we take adults off HIV medications, they almost certainly within a short time period would have levels of virus back to where they were before they were taking medication," he said.

Only one instance of a "sterilizing cure" -- when there are absolutely no traces of HIV in the body -- has been documented. This occurred in the so-called "Berlin patient," an American man living in Germany who received a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. The transplanted cells came from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that increases immunity against the most common form of HIV. This patient has remained HIV-free after discontinuing drug therapy.

And Persaud said she is not advocating that the Mississippi case become the standard of care. "This is a single case and we don't really know what are all of the factors [involved]," she said.

But the case does "pave the way now for us to immediately start clinical studies to see if we can replicate these findings in more infants," Persaud said. Those trials are ready to move forward.

At the last follow-up, the child born in Mississippi was "doing well and was healthy," she added.

Horberg said the findings in the baby were "encouraging" but "time will tell" if such a strategy can keep the virus under control for long periods of time without medication.

He emphasized that there are ways to prevent a baby from becoming infected in the first place.

"This again shows the importance of testing pregnant mothers and getting them into care and on [drug] treatment such that we wouldn't even need to worry about it at this point," he said. "What's encouraging, though, if it does come to this point, we might have some good treatment options."

The research presented Sunday was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the American Foundation for AIDS Research

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