On March 4, NIH-supported investigators reported the first ever “functional cure” of HIV in a toddler in Mississippi. The child received antiretroviral drugs within hours of birth and continued on the drugs for 18 months, when treatment was stopped. Despite discontinued treatment, the toddler no longer had detectable levels of HIV when seen by medical professionals 6 months later. Subsequent tests confirmed that the child had indeed been “functionally cured” of HIV. Although more research is necessary to see if these results can be duplicated, scientists believe this provides hope for the hundreds of thousands of children born with HIV each year. NIH funding not only supported investigators involved in monitoring the child, but also played an instrumental historical role in developing the antiretroviral drugs that were used to cure the child. We are one step closer to a world free from HIV.
In light of this breakthrough, it is disturbing and sadly ironic that Congress and the White House on Friday permitted federal funding for biomedical research to be cut — after years of sustained or increased funding – as part of sequestration. How much progress will be squandered if these cuts, and the indifference to American priorities they exemplify, aren’t reversed?