Second Baby Seems Cured of HIV, U.S. Scientists Say

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A 9-month-old baby who was born in California with the HIV virus that leads to AIDS may have been cured as a result of treatments that doctors began just four hours after her birth, medical researchers said on Wednesday.

That child is the second case, following an earlier instance in Mississippi, in which doctors may have brought HIV in a newborn into remission by administering antiretroviral drugs in the first hours of life, said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a pediatrics specialist with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, at a medical conference in Boston.

"The child ... has become HIV-negative," Persaud said, referring to the 9-month-old baby born outside Los Angeles, who is being treated at Miller Children's Hospital. The child's identify was not disclosed.

That child is still receiving a three-drug cocktail of anti-AIDS treatments, while the child born in Mississippi, now 3-1/2 years old, stopped receiving antiretroviral treatments two years ago.

Both children were born of mothers infected with HIV, which wipes out the body's immune system and causes AIDS.

Speaking at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Persaud credited the early use of antiretroviral therapies with improving the children's health but warned that more research must be done.

"Really the only way we can prove that we have accomplished remission in these kids is by taking them off treatment and that's not without risk," Persaud said. "This is a call to action for us to mobilize and be able to learn from these cases."

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, surfaced more than 30 years ago and is presently believed to have infected more than 34 million people worldwide. Prevention measures, including condoms, have helped check its spread and antiretroviral drugs can now control the disease for decades, meaning it is no longer an automatic death sentence.

Editing genes against HIV

In other news of the disease, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania claim to have manipulated the genes of white-blood cells to make them resistant - though not immune - to infection by the HIV virus.

Their work is reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

To infect a blood cell, the virus has to attach to it and inject its genetic material into the cell, which then helplessly starts reproducing the viral DNA. This attachment is effected through receptor proteins. The gene the scientists monkeyed with is precisely that receptor.

Their landmark research is the first reported use in humans of gene editing, a technology that targets a particular gene and disables it. It is highly experimental at this stage.

Electron microscope image courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a white blood cell (blue) infected with HIV (yellow).Credit: AP
Dr. Deborah Persaud, a pediatric HIV expert at Johns Hopkins' Children's Center in Baltimore, holding a vial.Credit: AP

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