Kenya infants on Mississippi Baby HIV ‘cure’ doing well – scientists

By Gatonye Gathura

Two Kenya infants put on the Mississippi Baby HIV ‘cure,’ that electrified the world in 2013, are responding well, scientists have revealed.

Last week scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the United States Military HIV Research Programme reported that the two HIV positive infants have been put on intense treatment and would stay under observation for up to nine years.

The Kenya/US team which has been carrying out several clinical trials for HIV cure at their field station in Kericho was presenting their progress at Kemri’s annual scientific conference held in Nairobi last week. In one of two clinical trials the researchers are carrying out, the two HIV positive infants were put on intensive antiretroviral treatment hours after birth.

This treatment is modeled alongside the now famous Mississippi Baby who in 2013 had convinced the world she had been cured of HIV. She had featured alongside the Berlin Patient as the only two people to have ever been cured of HIV using modern medical technologies.

The baby had been born prematurely in a Mississippi clinic, US, in 2010 to an HIV-infected mother who did not receive ARVs when pregnant. Within 30 hours of birth the child was put on ARVs and a few days later confirmed HIV positive.

Weeks later the child was discharged from hospital but continued on ARVs until 18 months of age when she was lost to treatment. When traced again, five months later the child still had no virus and continued like that for more than two years convincing the medical world that a cure for HIV had finally been found.

However four years later the HIV was found to have rebounded in the child who has now been put back on ARVs. Despite the drawback HIV researchers have since been studying the phenomenon of the Mississippi Baby and how it can be replicated with better results hence the Kericho study.

The Wednesday presentation at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, said the two Kericho infants had been put on an aggressive ARV treatment within 48 hours after birth and later confirmed to be HIV positive.

At weeks 8 and 12 the infants’ viral load had dropped to undetectable levels and will be assessed again for HIV remission between weeks 84 and 96.

“If both or any of them meet the ARVs cessation criteria, then, the medication will be stopped and they will be followed-up for nine years,” says the brief.

The team also reported on the progress of another three participants at the Kericho station who have been put on another experimental HIV cure.

In this treatment HIV positive participants are injected with disease fighting substances called HIV neutralizing antibodies.

These antibodies have been isolated from a small group of people who even when exposed to HIV do not seem to get infected a process seen as a possible route to developing a vaccine.

So far the researchers said the trials are progressing well with two participants having completed a six month follow-up period with undetectable HIV.

“The search for a HIV cure offers best hope in the effort of eradicating AIDS globally and we highly appreciate our participants in the Kericho study,” said the researchers.

The project is primarily funded through the US Military HIV Research Programme and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief with the focus of developing drugs and vaccines for HIV prevention and treatment.

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