JACKSON, Miss. — God is in the details of the change in HIV status of a Mississippi baby once thought cured of the virus, pediatric HIV specialist Hannah Gay said after the virus began replicating anew in the child.
“I have learned that often the hand of God is evident in the details and even in this relapse it has been no different,” Gay said today (July 14) after tests revealed the virus was again growing in the child, breaking a remission of more than two years.
“For confidentiality reasons I cannot share any of those details publicly but there are many and they have helped to not just reaffirm my faith in God,” Gay said, “but to actually strengthen it.”
Gay administered a groundbreaking, aggressive antiviral drug trio to the child within 30 hours of its birth four years ago to an HIV-positive mother. Gay had always given God credit for the treatment’s success. While scientists speculated the child was cured and continued monitoring her status, Gay never assumed the child’s status would remain the same.
“If I ever said that I believed that God had healed this child for all time, I misspoke, because I certainly do not have the wisdom to say what God has in His plan,” Gay said. “My intent was to communicate that I had not created or discovered something magical, but that it was the work of God.”
The international scientific community took notice in March, 2013, when Gay announced the virus was no longer replicating in the baby who had received no antiviral treatment for 10 months, because the mother had failed to bring the baby to appointments at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where Gay is professor of pediatric infectious diseases.
Gay continues to monitor the child and periodically sends samples of the child’s blood to the labs of colleagues for ultrasensitive tests.
“In reality I have never understood why God chose to touch this baby and allow her to get off of medicine. I have never understood why He chose to do that here and now,” Gay said. “I have certainly never understood why God chose to involve me in this story when that is not something I would have chosen for myself. And I don’t know now why He chose to send us all along what seems to be a different path.
“But I learned many, many years ago that God is far too big for me to understand Him, but at the same time that His love for mankind is just as far beyond my comprehension,” she noted. “So I trust Him even when I don’t understand.”
The child’s latest blood tests revealed detectable levels of HIV, reversing the child’s status of more than two years in remission, Gay and researchers reported July 10 to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.
“From a more feeling standpoint it is a thoroughly bitter disappointment to know that this child is now back on medicine after we had hoped that she could stay off for a lifetime,” Gay said. “None-the-less, she has been given over two years of reprieve from medicine and currently has [the] availability of drugs that can be expected to keep her healthy throughout a long life or until a cure is discovered.”
The child’s medical history remains vital to the continued research of an HIV cure, Gay told BP.
“Thinking from a purely scientific standpoint, this outcome, though disappointing, is not disastrous. Indeed we often learn as much from failures as from successes in science, so this case remains very important to the progress of HIV cure research,” Gay said. “I look at it as if the world is working together on a puzzle that, when finished, will show us the complete picture of what ‘cure’ looks like.
“The case of the Mississippi Baby has added some huge pieces to that puzzle and likely will continue to add more in the future. I could have wished that this would be the last piece of the puzzle, at least for newborns,” she said, “but I am content in knowing that the pieces are steadily coming together and the picture will eventually become clear.”
A clinical trial testing Gay’s treatment as an HIV cure in babies may be redesigned.
“I predict that the clinical trial will proceed though perhaps with some modifications,” she said. “I am not personally involved with that particular decision making, but I do know that the NIH leadership and members of the protocol team are looking hard at all of the issues involved, and am confident that they will come to a conclusion that optimally protects the safety of study participants while giving the best chance of answering the important scientific questions that are on the table.”
Deborah Persaud, a virologist and pediatric HIV expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, is heading the trial as chairman of the cure committee of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trial Network.
— by Diana Chandler | BP