A child born to a HIV infected mother has been declared cured. This is a fantastic achievement for medical science, but digging deeper we find there are unusual aspects about this case.
To appreciate the magnitude of what happened in this case, what usually happens when new-borns are at risk of contracting HIV they will be given 1 – 2 antiretroviral drugs in order to prevent the virus manifesting. At 6 – 8 weeks the infant is tested for HIV, and not before because it cannot be known before this time if they have contracted the HIV virus from their mother. This may seem odd but what may first appear to be the HIV virus could just be the mothers anti-bodies. If the child tests positive for HIV only then will the infant be given a pharmaceutical-chemical cocktail of antiretroviral drugs. These are known to be toxic.
In this case the child was given the mixture of antiretroviral drugs after 30 hours of being alive. Obviously, it had not yet been confirmed that the infant had HIV, but it was believed there was a very high risk. Later tests on the child did show signs of HIV which lasted up to 12 days. According to medics this suggests the child had the virus during this time. After 12 days the signs of HIV began to fall and kept on doing so till it was undetectable.
Unusual aspects of this case have been brought forward by professors and doctors who are not directly related to the case. First and foremost it’s possible that the child was never infected, since the HIV diagnosis cannot be given until at least 6 weeks after birth. However, what was done here is at the least shown to be a preventative, which is still a massive advancement. Secondly, both the mother and child had extremely low levels of the virus; this is particularly surprising on the mothers part since she had never undergone any treatment. Thirdly, a child’s immune system differs from the adult immune system; so what worked as a cure for the child may not work for adults. Currently HIV positive adults are given drugs such as antiretroviral therapy (ART) temporarily suppress the virus.
Some individuals have a genetic mutation which makes them naturally resistant to the HIV virus; this is located on the CCR5 protein. Apparently 1 in 1,000 Europeans and Americans have this resistance to HIV (bbc.co.uk). Fortunately this protein is not necessary for human functioning. Preliminary studies that use gene-editing to remove CCR5 from human cells are producing encouraging results, but more research and evidence is needed before this can become standardized procedure.
You may remember back in 2008 when 42 year old Timothy Brown who suffered with HIV and leukaemia was cured. This year it’s been reported that the he still has no signs of HIV. This was achieved with a bone marrow transplant. The donor had a genetic resistance to the immunodeficiency virus. The initial reason for this transplant was to treat his leukaemia, and it was hoped that the bone marrow – the source of the human body’s immune cells – would also produce enough HIV resistant cells to temporarily suppress the HIV.
In regards to the recent case of the child, the antiretroviral treatment cannot be immediately generalised as a cure for the AIDS–causing virus. Before this can happen the treatment must be replicated as there must be more evidence than a single case. The final word is that this massive step has given certified hope of curing this malingering destructive disease.
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