Could this be the end for HIV?

A baby girl in the U.S.A who was born with HIV, has reportedly been cured of the infection. The baby was given very early treatment with standard drug therapy, and it is the first account of an infant achieving a ‘functional’ cure-meaning she will not need drugs for the virus. This case differs from the other, now famous case of the so- called ‘Berlin patient’- who also was cured completely of the virus. The difference being, Timothy Ray Brown (the Berlin patient) had to undergo extremely elaborate treatment for leukemia that resulted in the destruction of his entire immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists the HIV infection- not exactly the easiest cure. Especially not when you compare it with the new case of this baby girl, she was given a cocktail of three standard drugs that are widely available and have already been used to treat HIV in infants. The key success of this case seems to be due to the early use of the drugs. The baby was given the cocktail at just 30 hours old, reportedly even before the test results confirming the baby had the infection had come back. This was a bold move from Dr Hannah Gay, the doctor who made the call, based on this fact that the baby’s mother only tested positive for HIV during labour, which meant that the baby had not received the six-week course of drugs in the womb intended to reduce the chance of the mother transmitting the infection.

But does it sound too easy? The drugs used on the baby were the standard HIV fighting drugs, just a potent mix of three instead of one or two at a time, and it is thought that this along with the early use of the drugs seem to have eradicated the virus before it took hold. Some researchers are arguing that the results are ‘premature’.  For example the NHS reported that although standard laboratory tests could not detect HIV in the babies blood at 1 month old, highly sensitive lab tests could still detect its presence at low levels. However, even though they may not have found a complete cure, there is hope that they may have found a functional one – one that requires no further treatment, that gives this little girl a chance at a normal life, not having to rely on drugs and a good life expectancy.  If this case turns out to be legitimate, it makes the idea of curing HIV seem like a realistic goal, which a few years ago would have been seen as impossible! Maybe it is premature, but this potential groundbreaking news is progress towards saving millions of lives in the future-so let’s hope it does!


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