A new hope of treatment for HIV-infected children comes from the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital on the eve of World AIDS Day, 1 December. Doctors and researchers have managed to develop a new procedure capable of characterizing the residual viral load and the associated protective immune response present in patients, identifying those children in which the viral residue is dormant and those in which this residue involves, if not properly treated, a risk of disease recurrence.
The results of this new procedure will be presented at the next edition of the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection, to be held in Seattle next February. In 2023, the first trial for the suspension of antiretroviral therapy in children with “dormant” viral reserve will start at the Bambino Gesù.
Residual viral load (or viral reserve) – explains a note – indicates the amount of virus that remains in some cells (CD4) present on T lymphocytes of people with HIV infection. Even today it represents the main obstacle to complete recovery: the presence of the residue, in fact, is what makes lifelong antiretroviral therapy necessary. In children who have inherited the virus from their mother (vertical infection) and who start antiretroviral therapy early, the amount of this residue is reduced. However, to understand the real possibilities of treatment, a diagnostic procedure is essential – the cellular characterization of the residue – which requires the drawing of a considerable amount of blood, often difficult in the case of children. About 150,000 new pediatric infections are recorded in the world every year, for a total of about 1,700,000 children infected with HIV. Vertical HIV infection affects approximately 95% of new pediatric cases each year. To overcome the problem of the small quantities of blood that can be taken from a child, researchers from the areas of Clinical Immunology and Vaccinology directed by Paolo Palma and Complex and Perinatal Infections by Stefania Bernardi, in collaboration with the Apheresis unit of Giovanna Leone della Medicina Transfusion of the Child Jesus, have studied the application of a procedure with which to obtain an optimal amount of cells ready for characterization.
The cellular material obtained with leukapheresis therefore allowed the doctors and researchers of the Bambino Gesù to perform a new molecular characterization of the viral reserve in collaboration with the laboratory of Mathias Lichterfeld of MIT in Boston, one of the world‘s leading experts in this field.
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