Researchers today described the first documented case of a child being cured of HIV. The landmark findings were announced at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, GA.
Dr. Deborah Persaud, of Johns Hopkins University and an amfAR grantee, detailed the case of a two-year-old child in Mississippi diagnosed with HIV at birth and immediately put on antiretroviral therapy. At 18 months, the child ceased taking antiretrovirals and was lost to follow-up. When brought back into care at 23 months, despite being off treatment for five months, the child was found to have an undetectable viral load. A battery of subsequent highly sensitive tests confirmed the absence of HIV.
"The child's pediatrician in Mississippi [Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi] was aware of the work we were doing, and quickly notified our team as soon as this young patient's case came to her attention," said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research.
"Because the collaboratory was already in place, the researchers were able to mobilize immediately and perform the tests necessary to determine if this was in fact a case of a child being cured."
According to Dr. Persaud, comprehensive tests have confirmed beyond doubt that both mother and child were HIV positive when the child was born, and today no signs of HIV infection in the child can be detected by the most sensitive means available.
The only other documented case of an HIV cure to date remains that of Timothy Brown, the so-called "Berlin patient." In 2006, while on treatment for HIV, Mr. Brown was diagnosed with leukemia. His physician was able to treat his leukemia with a stem-cell transplant from a person who was born with a genetic mutation causing immunity to HIV infection. Following the transplant, Mr. Brown was able to stop HIV treatment without experiencing a return of his HIV disease.
The Mississippi case also underscores the importance of identifying HIV-positive pregnant women, expanding access to treatment regimens than can prevent mother-to-child transmission, and of immediately putting infants on antiretroviral therapy in the event that they are born HIV positive.
"We are proud to have played a leading role in bringing this first pediatric HIV cure to light," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost.
"The case is a startling reminder that a cure for HIV could come in ways we never anticipated, and we hope this is the first of many children cured of HIV in the months and years to come."