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UMass Researcher Involved In Cure For Baby Born With HIV

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondant
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BOSTON (CBS) – There has been a major medical breakthrough with connections to Massachusetts.

Local researchers worked on what they call a “functional cure” for a little girl born with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“This is a great day for UMass Medical School,” Chancellor of UMass Medical Michael Collins said.

Collins showed off one of the schools many research labs to reporters Monday. It is on this campus that researcher Katherine Luzuriaga did her work trying to a find a cure for the HIV virus.

Now comes word that an infant born with the virus was cured because she was aggressively treated with oral medications almost immediately after birth. It comes as a direct result of work done by Luzuriaga and her team.

One of the medications given to the child was developed at UMass in the 1990′s. John Sullivan also worked on the project.

“It was exhilarating. It was something that you didn’t think was possible. This is really, really important and we need to really focus on it and see if we can reproduce it,” Sullivan said.

Now here is the interesting part, this discovery was actually made six months ago, but researchers at UMass as well as their counter parts, spent all this time checking and re-checking data and conclusions.

The unidentified child is now two and half years old. Normally high-risk infants are treated but at a slower pace. This time, this child was treated faster, right after birth, and with stronger doses not allowing the virus to take hold in the immune system.

“This was an experiment that happened. It was unplanned but it established that the baby was clearly infected and that this initiation of treatment at 30 hours of age allowed the virus to be eradicated over a two year period,” Sullivan said.

Despite that — researchers are hesitant to declare this a cure-all for children born with HIV.

“But in situations where you can imagine, in the developing world, where a woman comes in to the hospital that has not had any prenatal care, one could do a rapid HIV test and one could initiate this protocol and one could see if this result is re-producible.”

Collins says this could have significant implications.

“UMass medical’s reach is across the Commonwealth, a very important institution for the nation and clearly reaches around the globe. We are very proud of our scientists.”

While celebrating today’s news, Collins also took a shot at the politicians in Washington DC and the sequestration budget cuts.

Collins told reporters “the federal government’s sequestration move puts discoveries like this at risk, when our government takes a meat clever approach to cutting research dollars, it does not help us into the future.”

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