A girl in South Africa who was born with the AIDS has been able to suppress her infection for over eight years, even after stopping with anti-HIV medicine. Scientists take this as evidence that early treatment of the virus can cause a remission in rare cases, meaning it could become a form of cure.
The girl’s case was presented Monday at an AIDS conference in Paris, where other researchers likewise revealed positive HIV treatment results from test experiments using monthly shots instead of daily pills, CBS reports.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top AIDS scientist in the USA, said that these prospects for long-acting drugs are “very promising.” Current treatments are able to keep HIV under control, but are designed to be taken for the remainder of a patient’s life.
Only one man is recorded to have been cured: the Berlin patient, who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor who had a natural resistance to the HIV virus.
However, transplants are very risky and are impractical for mass treatments. So researchers have been looking at long-term remission options, wherein the body’s immune system can control HIV without the need for drugs, even if the virus remains.
The South African girl is the third child to have achieved long-term remission after aggressive treatment early on. In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the girl began taking HIV drugs when she was only two months old. The treatments stopped 40 weeks later.
When she was over nine years old, tests showed signs of HIV in a small number of her immune system cells, but none that were reproducing. In addition, the girl does not have the gene mutation that makes some people naturally resistant to HIV infections.
“Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies,” Fauci said. “However, this new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of life-long therapy and the health consequences of long-term immune activation typically associated with HIV disease.”