'Cured' baby remains solitary reminder that genuine solution to HIV is still a long way off

 

Science Editor

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), so it is with great excitement that the Aids community has received the news that a baby has been “cured” of the virus.

Scientists reported on Sunday that they have found the first case of an infant who has apparently been able to rid itself of HIV. They are calling it a “functional HIV cure” because the virus seems to be all but eliminated from the baby’s bloodstream – although they cannot be 100 per cent sure of total eradication from the body.

For three decades, Aids scientists have shied away from using the “c” word when it came to HIV. Unlike so many other potentially fatal viruses, the Aids virus had several stubborn tricks up its sleeve that made a cure seem virtually impossible.

Foremost among these tricks was the ability of HIV to hide away within the genetic material of a patient. No matter how many drugs or vaccines were deployed against freely-circulating virus, this hidden HIV – integrated within a patient’s DNA – was seen as virtually inviolable against attack.

Now researchers have discovered that they have perhaps witnessed a chink in HIV’s formidable armoury by scientifically documenting the rise and fall of the virus within the tiny body of a new-born infant.

The baby in question is now two and half years old and was born to a Mississippi mother who was diagnosed with HIV too late in labour for her to undergo the usual prophylactic treatment aimed at preventing the virus from being passed on during pregnancy and childbirth.

Scientists in the developed world can now limit the risk of “vertical transmission” of HIV from mother to child with something like 98 per cent confidence. They do this by dosing the pregnant mother with a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, delivering the baby by Caesarian section and preventing breastfeeding.

The aim is to lower the amount of virus that is freely circulating in the mother’s bloodstream and milk, and hence limit the risk of transmission during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. New-born babies can also be given one of the antiretroviral drugs to lessen the risk still further.

However, in the case of the Mississippi baby the doctors decided to hit the virus will everything they could within hours of birth. Three powerful antivirals were infused into the baby within 30 hours of its delivery.

The baby today continues to be healthy, is not taking any antiviral drugs and has no HIV according to the standard blood tests. In effect, the scientists reported to the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunisitic Infections in Atlanta, Georgia, the infected infant has reached the state of a “functional HIV cure”.

The case is reminiscent of Timothy Brown, the so-called Berlin Patient who is thought to be the first and only adult to be cured of HIV, following a bone-marrow transplant. His transplant donor was an “elite controller” with a mutation in a gene called CCR5 which seems to prevent HIV from infecting key immune cells attacked by the virus.

However, Mr Brown’s case is very different to that of the Mississippi baby, who was only given anti-retroviral therapy, the standard treatment for HIV and Aids across the world.

Other scientists, however, are still sceptical of drawing too many conclusions over this one case. They would, for instance, like to see more hard detail in a properly peer-reviewed paper that responds to serious questions, such as whether the baby was truly infected with HIV in the first place.

“They have used very sophisticated tests to look for virus in the blood, but it can also hide elsewhere in the body,” said John Frater, an HIV researcher at Oxford University.

Antiviral drugs, especially when used as a combined cocktail of three or more, are good at eliminating free virus from the blood, but it only takes one or two viruses integrated in to the genetic material of an infected cell to cause further illness months or years down the line.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette; only one chamber contains a bullet – so if you remain HIV negative you don’t know if you cleared the virus or simply didn’t get infected in the first place,” said Professor Jonathan Ball of Nottingham University.

The Mississippi baby remains a solitary and enigmatic reminder that a genuine cure of HIV is still a long way off.

Timeline: spread of a deadly virus

1981 Infectious disease among gay men suffering from a rare form of pneumonia and skin cancer identified. Later reported as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids).

1983 Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, identify a new retrovirus in a gay man suffering from Aids.

1984 Robert Gallo discovers the cause of Aids in a virus called HTLV-3.

1985 Hollywood actor Rock Hudson dies of Aids.

1987 AZT, the first antiviral drug to treat HIV, becomes available. UN launches global programme.

1990 Actor Ian Charleson, dies of Aids, the first UK showbusiness case.

1991 Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury dies of Aids aged 45.

1992 The first experimental combination therapies are introduced, where patients are given two or more anti-retroviral drugs.

1995 New type of anti-retroviral known as a protease inhibitor is launched.

2002 HIV/Aids is leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 59.

2005 US health officials recommend use of antiviral drugs for post-exposure prophylaxis against HIV.

2007 Timothy Brown, receives bone marrow transplant and is later declared “cured”.

2012 Barré-Sinoussi seeks “cure research” to eliminate HIV.

Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
VIDEO
Life & Style
The exterior of a central London Angus Steakhouse
food + drink
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget the rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit