HIV Forges Towards a Cure With New Gene Therapy Results


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) may cease to plague patients further with new-found studies of gene therapy.  Two infants treated immediately at birth for HIV, a test patient with successful gene resistance to HIV, and a bone marrow transplant that left refutable traces of AIDS have transitioned medicine in a conclusive direction.

A medical conference revealed a baby once diagnosed with HIV currently exhibits no traces of the disease.  This is the second infant diagnosed at birth with HIV that no longer displays sufficient evidence of the virus.  Mississippi is the birthplace of the first known child to defy these odds.  The mother who gave birth to the Mississippi newborn was unaware she had contracted the virus.  She was uninformed of this fact up until the moment she entered delivery.  Expectant mothers, diagnosed with HIV, are prescribed preventative medications during prenatal care.  This action is taken in order to inhibit the transmission of HIV to the infant.

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga reports that all mothers infected with HIV will pass on the antibodies, but only 30 percent will transmit the virus itself.  When treated promptly and properly the virus has less than a 2 percent likelihood of survival.  With no knowledge of her illness the Mississippi mother was unable to forego this type of treatment.  Once the child was born her blood tested HIV-positive and she was placed on antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after birth.  The child maintained use of the antiretroviral drugs for 15 months.  For reasons unreported, the mother discontinued administering the medication but the child remained free of the virus.

More than three years later the child is still virus-free and a second baby has surfaced with similar findings.  The 9-month-old baby girl was born at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, CA.  The mother suffered from mental-illness and an advanced case of AIDS.  The mother was given preventative medications before the infant was born but did not take them.  Four hours after the infant’s birth, pediatrician, Dr. Audra Deveikis placed the baby on high dosages of the antiretrovirals AZT, 3TC and nevirapine.  This was a vigorously aggressive approach that is normally not applied to infants.  The traditional procedure that takes place is to administer two of the three antiretrovirals at much lower doses.  The physician routinely awaits the outcome of the HIV blood test before enlisting a more intrusive approach. Dr. Deveikis was forced to weigh the transmission of the virus against the infants strength in handling possible toxic levels of treatment.  Eleven days after the treatment the virus was undetected in the infant.  Follow-up exams have confirmed that the nine-month old continues to be virus-free.

Dr. Persaud states that labeling the virus-free child as cured is incorrect.  The child continues to take antiretrovirals and it can not be definitively stated whether or not the virus will return without the medication.  It is medically unethical to remove the child from the medication in order to test the virus returning.  Timothy Brown also Known as the “Berlin Patient,” displays undetectable levels of HIV while remaining off  antiretroviral therapy.  Brown was suffering from both leukemia and HIV before undergoing a bone marrow transplant.  His HIV infected immune system was decimated and then restored with bone marrow carrying a specific mutation.  The bone marrow donor contained two copies of a CCR5 mutation.  Studies indicate an individual that inherits the CCR5 mutation from each parent will not contract HIV even after extreme exposure.

The outcome of these findings provides an explantation as to why Brown remains HIV free.  The CCR5 mutation discovery has also led to a new gene therapy technique conducted on 12 HIV positive patients.  Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took millions of T-cells and grew them in a lab and expanded them into billions.  The DNA inside the T-cells was modified and given the shielding mutation CCR5-delta-32.  Approximately 20 percent were successfully modified, out of the ten billion cells infused back into the blood stream.  Patients removed from their medication for four weeks saw a significant decrease in T-cells that were unprotected.  Whereas, the protected T-cells were still found in the blood in subsequent months.  These gene therapy results lead the forge in a palpable cure for HIV.

Editorial By Ebony Waller

New York Times
Wall Street Journal

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