GAINESVILLE---Young children infected with HIV have one substantial advantage over those who are older: a much greater capacity for immune system restoration when treated with a potent new class of AIDS drugs, according to a new University of Florida study.
In about two-thirds of the 44 children in the study, the number of T cells, an indicator of immune functioning, increased to normal levels. Children under 6 showed the most pronounced improvement.
"Their immune systems came back very dramatically and to a much greater extent than would have been expected based on the earlier trials done with adults," said Dr. John W. Sleasman, chief of pediatric immunology and infectious diseases in UF's College of Medicine, whose article on the study was published in last month's Journal of Pediatrics.
"We have now followed these children for more than two years, and many of them continue to do extremely well," said Sleasman, noting that some who had been quite sick are spending much less time in the hospital, have suffered fewer illnesses and are able to attend school regularly.
"The hope is that this will be a long-lasting and durable immune reconstitution," he said.
Sleasman's analysis is based on data collected during the first U.S. clinical trial of children treated with a so-called drug cocktail -- a combination of medications that includes a protease inhibitor, the class of drugs shown to interfere effectively in replication of the HIV virus. In the trial -- a collaborative effort of the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and the National Cancer Institute -- children were treated with ritonavir, zidovudine and didanosine.
Strong antiretroviral therapy such as the type used in the study now is the standard ongoing treatment for adults and children who can manage the complex regimen and tolerate its side effects.
While far from a cure, the medications have been credited for a sharp drop
in AIDS deaths in the United State
Contact: Victoria White
University of Florida