South African Boy, believed to have been infected with HIV around the time of his birth, has remained free of the virus for 8½ years after early treatment — renewing hope among scientists that such outliers may hold clues to help end the decades-old epidemic.
The case study, described by researchers before a presentation Monday at an international AIDS conference in Paris, suggests a paradigm shift in the treatment of those infected. It establishes that HIV may be controllable in some way other than a daily and lifelong regimen of antiretroviral drugs.
“This is really the first step toward HIV remission and a cure,” said Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. “Understanding the factors that came into play to lead to this outcome is really going to inform science.”
It is exciting to see this. It is encouraging to see a child going for such a long period of time without rebounding,” Fauci said. “But we don’t have the full answers to what this means yet.”
The first case of extended remission in a child was announced to great excitement in 2013. Startled researchers reported that a girl — who came to be known as the Mississippi baby — appeared to be “functionally cured” 23 months after stopping treatment. The celebration was premature, however: The virus returned shortly after that announcement, and the young girl had to be put back on medications. But her case brought to light the possibility of viral suppression in children and led to the funding of other research into the phenomenon.
The second case, reported in 2015, involved a French teen who underwent treatment from soon after birth to age 6 and whose blood continued to have undetectable levels of the virus for 12 years after stopping the drugs.