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Scientists Redouble Efforts After AIDS Virus Rebounds in 'Cured' Baby

  • Chris Simkins

A baby in the United States who was seemingly cured of HIV - after receiving powerful drugs at birth four years ago - recently tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

The child, known as the "Mississippi baby," made international headlines a year ago when groundbreaking research about the case was announced, giving new hope for treatments that might lead to a cure for AIDS. Despite the latest setback, U.S. researchers are redoubling efforts to put the virus into remission at birth.

A year ago U.S. medical researchers were hopeful about possible new treatment options that could benefit the 250,000 children born each year with the virus that causes AIDS. Dr. Hannah Gay made headlines for treating a Mississippi baby born to an HIV-infected mother four years ago. The child was given three powerful HIV drugs immediately after birth and was thought to be cured of the virus.

But Gay and her colleagues got some bad news in early July after tests revealed the toddler is now HIV positive - after 27 months with no treatment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it’s part of trial and error.

"I do not mean to play down the disappointment, but when you are in the discovery phase of research you are going to fail more often than you succeed," he said.

Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University, along with two of her colleagues, Dr. Hanna Gay and Katherine Luzuriaga, are overseeing research aimed at curing newborns of AIDS. The New England Journal of Medicine published their groundbreaking research last year. Undeterred by the latest setback, Persaud is back in the lab looking for answers.

"While our research is focused on the Mississippi baby’s treatment regimens, we have a broadened agenda in trying to figure out how to reach this state of viral admission or cure in affected children who were not fortunate enough to be able to benefit from a treatment strategy such as the Mississippi baby," she said.

Fauci says researchers now want to find out why HIV rebounded in the Mississippi baby and how the toddler was able to go so long with the virus in remission.

"So, something was keeping the virus suppressed," he said. "We need to know what that was and we also need to know what triggered it. But there is no guarantee we are going to get a cure; we may be faced with the fact that we do have to treat people indefinitely. We do not know that right now."

Fauci and other HIV /AIDS researchers say they have a lot more work to do to improve testing and treatment in their quest towards prolonged HIV remission in newborns and an eventual cure for AIDS.

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