A week of progress toward HIV prevention

Posted Mar 8, 2014 by Tim Sandle
This has been a good week for HIV related developments: a gene-editing protocol shows promise, and a second baby who was started on antiretroviral drugs soon after birth appears to be virus-free a year later.
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green)
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green)
C. Goldsmith / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The first news that came in was about a nine-month-old baby in Southern California who was born with the virus appears to be HIV-free after receiving antiretroviral treatment since she was four hours old. Pediatrician Audra Deveikis gave the infant a cocktail of three drugs — AZT, 3TC, and nevirapine — at high doses typically used for treating the virus.
Interviewed by the New York Times Deveikis said: “Of course I had worries, But the mother’s disease was not under control, and I had to weigh the risk of transmission against the toxicity of the meds.”
The “Long Beach baby,” as she is being called, is the second case of an HIV-positive baby becoming HIV negative after early administration of antiretrovirals. The first baby was from Mississippi. This baby was given powerful HIV medications within 30 hours of birth. That child is now three years old and is HIV-free.
On Thursday (March 6), researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that a gene therapy method that modifies patients’ own immune cells to make some of them lack CCR5, a surface protein critical to HIV’s entry into cells, was safe to use in humans and may even reduce viral load in some HIV patients.
Gene therapy is the use of DNA as a drug to treat disease by delivering therapeutic DNA into a patient's cells. The most common form of gene therapy involves using DNA that encodes a functional, therapeutic gene to replace a mutated gene.
With the gene-editing study, the two lead scientists, Bruce Levine and Carl June, from the University of Pennsylvania, were quoted in Digital Journal as saying "We are absolutely encouraged by these results. This is potentially a new therapy for HIV."