Researchers Describe 1st 'Functional Cure' of HIV in Baby
More studies needed to see if it's really a breakthrough in fight against AIDS
Instead, the child stayed on the regimen for only 18 months before dropping out of the medical system and discontinuing the drugs.
Ten months after stopping treatment, however, the child was again seen by doctors who were surprised to find no HIV virus or HIV antibodies with standard tests.
Ultrasensitive tests did detect infinitesimal traces of viral DNA and RNA in the blood. But the virus was not replicating -- a highly unusual occurrence given that drugs were no longer being administered, the researchers said.
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.