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ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — French researchers say they have discovered a “functional cure” for 14 patients infected with HIV.
MedPage Today reports that the patients were treated within the first two months of their infection.
Dr. Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Institute Pasteur in Paris told MedPage Today that after the initial two months of HIV therapy there was no HIV rebound in the patients and they were able to stop combination antiretroviral therapy.
The patients have reportedly been off the HIV therapy between four and ten years after initially spending between one and eight years on the therapy.
Sáez-Cirión told MedPage Today that researchers wanted the patients to take “a vacation and from therapy and participation in a treatment-interruption study.”
Researchers believe starting therapy early over an extended period of time “likely played an important role in reducing the (HIV) reservoirs.”
This report comes nearly two weeks after scientists say that a 2 ½-year-old has been “cured” of HIV.
There’s no guarantee the child will remain healthy, although sophisticated testing uncovered just traces of the virus’ genetic material still lingering. If so, it would mark only the world’s second reported cure.
Specialists say the announcement, made at a major AIDS meeting in Atlanta, offers promising clues for efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.
“You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we’ve seen,” Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is familiar with the findings, told The Associated Press.
A doctor gave this baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth. That was before tests confirmed the infant was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn’t diagnosed until she was in labor.
“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said in an interview.
That fast action apparently knocked out HIV in the baby’s blood before it could form hideouts in the body. Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly reinfect anyone who stops medication, said Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. She led the investigation that deemed the child “functionally cured,” meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven’t been completely eradicated.
The mother had had no prenatal care when she came to a rural emergency room in advanced labor. A rapid test detected HIV. In such cases, doctors typically give the newborn low-dose medication in hopes of preventing HIV from taking root. But the small hospital didn’t have the proper liquid kind, and sent the infant to Gay’s medical center. She gave the baby higher treatment-level doses.
The child responded well through age 18 months, when the family temporarily quit returning and stopped treatment, researchers said. When they returned several months later, remarkably, Gay’s standard tests detected no virus in the child’s blood.
Ten months after treatment stopped, a battery of super-sensitive tests at half a dozen laboratories found no sign of the virus’ return. There were only some remnants of genetic material that don’t appear able to replicate, Persaud said.
In Mississippi, Gay gives the child a check-up every few months: “I just check for the virus and keep praying that it stays gone.”
The mother’s HIV is being controlled with medication and she is “quite excited for her child,” Gay added.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)