LOS ANGELES -- When doctors announced that a Mississippi toddler born with HIV was functionally cured, the news sent shockwaves around the globe.
But the medical marvel hit close to home for a few residents in Los Angeles -- friends and associates of the late AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser. Glaser lost her battle with AIDS 19 years ago, but the work she began to eradicate pediatric AIDS worldwide can still be felt through the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, a nonprofit research organization she founded after her daughter succumbed to AIDS in 1988. In fact, her legacy is imprinted on the so-called Mississippi miracle.
Two doctors involved in the Mississippi toddler's case are recipients of the Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Awards, generous five-year grants of $700,000 that Glaser's foundation gave to leaders in the field of pediatric AIDS research from 1996 to 2006.
Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center received the Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award in 2005. She led the investigation to determine that the toddler's HIV virus was in remission. She conducted the investigation with Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who was an award recipient in 1997.
The connection to the Mississippi medical case makes Susie Zeegen, one of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation's co-founders, immensely proud.
"We were investing in people, and the people that got this award were above and beyond in their zeal and their promise to be able to come up with new and innovative approaches to the probems that children face," said Zeegen in an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "I'm sure [Glaser] would be beyond proud and happy as am I."
Zeegen is still awestruck at the apparent "cure." Since news about the toddler broke on Sunday, she has been busy collecting every single article written about the baby. She could only think of one word to describe her reaction: "Wow."
"My overall reaction is of great joy and great optimism," Zeegen said. And in the global fight to eradicate pediatric AIDS, a little bit of optimism couldn't hurt. Currently, an estimated 600,000 babies are born each year with HIV worldwide.
But because of her decades of work with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Zeegen is cautious about forecasting what the toddler's cure may mean for pediatric AIDS worldwide.
"What happened in Mississippi is an impetus to get us all charged up again about being able to really and truly eradicate HIV from children," Zeegen said. "There's a ton of work that has to happen, and we all know that."
Chip Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, echoed Zeegen's enthusiasm and caution.
"The case needs to be very carefully examined," said Lyons. The foundation is focusing on cutting rates of perinatal HIV infection around the globe, especially in India and countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Lyons, based in Washington, couldn't help but give part of the credit for this global movement to Los Angeles, Glaser's home.
"Philanthropists, donors, friends, and particularly the LA community -- there was a remarkable rallying around their friend, who was still fighting for herself, fighting for her son, and fighting to get kids on the agenda," said Lyons.
Glaser founded the organization in 1988 after the death of her 7-year-old daughter, Ariel. When Glaser gave birth to Ariel in 1981, she unknowingly contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and then passed on the disease to Ariel through breastfeeding. Her son, Jake, also subsequently contracted HIV in utero. It wasn't until Ariel started suffering unexplained symptoms that doctors determined all three of them had HIV.
After Ariel died, Glaser was determined to save her son from the same fate. Together with the help of friends Zeegen and Susan Delaurentis, Glaser mined her Hollywood industry contacts (her husband was actor/director Paul Michael Glaser) to raise money and awareness about pediatric AIDS during a time that researchers weren't studying HIV-affected families or pediatric formulations of drug treatments. Now Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation has offices in 15 countries and is working on a global scale to bring down the rates of perinatal HIV transmission.
1. Most Don't Have Their Infection Under Control
Only one quarter of the 1.1 million <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/2012/Stages-of-CareFactSheet-508.pdf">people with HIV</a> have their <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/hiv-under-control-1-in-4_n_1711260.html">condition under control</a>, where "under control" means the virus has been suppressed, according to a report released this summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Only if we get <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/health/HealthDay667108_20120727_Only_1_in_4_Americans_With_HIV_Has_Virus_Under_Control__CDC.html">everyone under regular care</a> for HIV/AIDS can we recognize the full benefits of treatment and prevention," Irene Hall, an epidemiologist at the CDC and one of the authors of the report, told HealthDay. <em><strong>CORRECTION</strong>: The first sentence has been reworded to more accurately reflect the number of people with HIV.</em>
2. Bone Marrow Transplants Could Play A Part In Being HIV-Free
Two men with HIV and cancer no longer have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html">detectable blood levels of the virus</a> after receiving bone marrow transplants for their cancers, news outlets reported this year. Doctors were unable to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html">find any traces of HIV</a> in the men's cells after they received the bone marrow transplants while also being treated with antiretrovirals. The finding "suggests that under the <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/07/26/two-more-patients-hiv-free-after-bone-marrow-transplants/">cover of anti-retroviral therapy</a>, the cells that repopulated the patient's immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV," Dr. Timothy Henrich, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, told ABC News. However, the Boston Globe pointed out that it's still too soon to say that these men have been<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html"> full-on <em>cured</em></a> of HIV, since they are still on the anti-retrovirals. There's no firm word on whether they will go off of the medication.
3. No-Cost HIV Treatment Could Cut New Infection Rates
New <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/27/free-hiv-drugs-decrease-infection-bc_n_2200393.html">HIV infection rates</a> can be dramatically lowered by making antiretroviral drugs free, a study from Canadian researchers found. The Canadian Press reported on the study, conducted by B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS researchers, which showed that British Columbia -- a province that offers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/27/free-hiv-drugs-decrease-infection-bc_n_2200393.html">free access to antiretroviral therapy</a> -- had the lowest rate of new HIV infections over a more-than-10-year period, compared with Ontairio and Quebec.
4. Many Young People Don't Know Their HIV Status
More than half of HIV-infected young people are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/hiv-youths-infected-aids-young-people_n_2198629.html">unaware that they have the virus</a>, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. "Given everything we know about HIV and how to prevent it in 30 years of fighting the disease, it's just unacceptable that young people are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/hiv-youths-infected-aids-young-people_n_2198629.html">becoming infected at such high rates</a>," Reuters reported CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden saying. The report also showed that for young people, 72 percent of the new HIV infections were in men who have sex with men, while almost 50 percent were in young, African-American males, Reuters reported. These figures are based on 2010 data.
5. More People Are Living With HIV Than 10 Years Ago
The number of people <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">living with HIV</a> has increased by 18 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to a report released this year from the United Nations Programme on AIDS. An estimated 34.2 million people around the world are living with HIV. The report also showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">deaths from AIDS </a>have <em>dropped</em>, from 2.3 million in 2005-2006 to 1.7 million in 2011, Reuters reported.
6. The Cost Of HIV Drugs Is Decreasing
According to the same United Nations report, costs for the cheapest UN-recommended <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">antiretroviral therapy drugs</a> have also decreased over the past 10 years, Reuters reported. A year's worth of the drugs used to cost $10,000 in 2000 for one person; now, it costs $100 a year.
7. HIV Treatment Truvada Can Also Be Used As A Preventive Measure
The Food and Drug Administration this year officially approved the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">drug Truvada</a> -- which has been used since 2004 as a treatment for HIV -- to be sold as a preventive measure for people who don't have the infection, but are at high risk for it. The FDA said that the pill should be considered for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">preventive use</a> not only by gay or bisexual men who are at high risk for HIV, but also heterosexual men and women who may also face HIV risks, the Associated Press reported. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">Heterosexual men and women</a> make up more than one-fourth of new cases of HIV, and "that's not a portion of the epidemic we want to ignore," the CDC's Dr. Dawn Smith, who was the lead author of the new recommendations, told the Associated Press. The FDA also approved a new drug this year, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/stribild-hiv-treatment-fda_n_1834734.html">Stribild</a>, to treat HIV, Reuters reported.
8. Engineered Stem Cells Could Play A Part In Fighting HIV
In findings published this year in the journal <em>PLoS Pathogens</em>, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles found that it's possible to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/stem-cell-aids-hiv-study-ucla_n_1428660.html">genetically engineer stem cells</a> to attack living HIV-infected cells in mice. While the study was only for "proof-of-principle," it "lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body," study researcher Dr. Scott G. Kitchen, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.
9. Pretty Much Everyone Should Be Screened For HIV
People should be screened for HIV even if they're not at high risk of contracting the infection, according to draft recommendations released just last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The recommendations would mean that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 should be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/routine-hiv-screening-us-preventive-services-task-force-uspstf_n_2161090.html">screened for HIV</a>, even if they're not at high risk for it, Reuters reported. "The prior recommendations were for screening high-risk adults and adolescents," Dr. Douglas Owens, a member of the USPSTF task force and a Stanford University medical professor, told Reuters. "The current recommendation is for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/routine-hiv-screening-us-preventive-services-task-force-uspstf_n_2161090.html">screening everyone</a>, regardless of their risk."
10. People Should Be Treated With Antiretrovirals As Soon As They're Diagnosed WIth HIV
<em>All</em> HIV patients should be <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/23/new-advice-calls-for-putting-all-hiv-patients-on-drug-treatment/">treated immediately with antiretrovirals</a>, according to new guidelines issued this year from a panel of the International Antiviral Society-USA, as reported by <em>TIME</em>. The recommendations are counter to previous guidelines, which said that antiretrovirals should only be used if the CD4 count -- a measure of immune cells in a person's body -- becomes less than 350 cells for every mm3 of blood.
Growing Up with HIV
During the AIDS 2012 conference, Christina Rodriguez talks about growing up with HIV.