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Case of 'clear remission' in HIV-infected baby garners international attention

Luzuriaga expresses cautious optimism, explains next steps on heels of stunning case

By Sandra L. Gray
UMass Medical School Communications

October 24, 2013 - A case report on a 3-year-old Mississippi child born with HIV and treated with a combination of antiviral drugs shortly after birth who remains free of active infection 18 months after all treatment ceased has received widespread media attention. Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine and vice provost for clinical and translational research who worked with doctors from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the University of Mississippi Medical Center on the stunning case, is senior author on the report published in the Oct. 24 New England Journal of Medicine .

In interviews with major news outlets including the Associated Press, HealthDay and National Public Radio, Dr. Luzuriaga expresses cautious optimism, saying, "We are calling this a remission because we want to follow the baby over a longer period of time to see if the child continues to control the virus without rebound."

First announced March 3 at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, the breakthrough has already been widely heralded as only the second well-documented case of a possible cure, out of the more than 70 million cumulative HIV infections. It is the first time the infection was cleared with currently available medications.

In a NEJM editorial accompanying the updated case report, Columbia University HIV/AIDS expert Scott M. Hammer, MD, concurs. "The big question, of course, is, 'Is the child cured of HIV infection?' The best answer at this moment is a definitive 'maybe.'"

"We never thought this was possible," said Luzuriaga, a nationally known pediatric HIV specialist who has spent more than two decades studying the disease at UMMS. "Up to this point, we believed that all children who were treated for HIV were sentenced to a lifetime of treatment. This case suggests that if we can treat early enough, we may be able to reduce the size and the extent of those viral reservoirs to the point that we may someday spare children a lifetime of therapy."

Luzuriaga is already working on the next steps toward a more definitive answer. She and colleagues are designing the protocols for a federally funded study set to begin in early 2014. Based on the Mississippi baby case, the study will test the early treatment method to determine whether the approach could be used in all HIV-infected newborns.

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Source: UMass Medical School

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ummscommunications@umassmed.edu or call 508-856-2000


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