Today, dozens of researchers and millions of dollars in funding support a mission to locate, activate and kill cells infected by dormant virus without harming patients. Then a durable HIV cure will have been achieved. In this mission, researchers remain years from their target.
In the case of the Mississippi baby, we know she was exposed to HIV, had HIV in her blood, and that at least some cells in her blood were found with sleeping virus—though we will likely never know if those cells were from the child or maternal cells that had been transmitted during pregnancy or birth. Was the baby infected with HIV and, thus, cured?
To many of the researchers at the conference, the answer is “no.” It seems more likely that her treatment prevented her, after exposure to HIV, from being infected. The reason we give medicines to both pregnant women and their newborns is precisely to prevent HIV exposures in children from becoming established infections, an intervention that can decrease the rate of transmission from about 30% to less than 1% in optimal conditions.
So what does this mean for patients with HIV? For the hundreds of pregnant women in the U.S. and Europe, and many thousands elsewhere who are diagnosed with HIV infection at the time of delivery, it offers hope for further decreasing the likelihood of passing the virus to their children. …