A new weapon for combating HIV as it is passed from mother to newborn child may have been uncovered by a new research at Oregon Health and Science University.
"Mother-to-infant transmission of HIV is a tremendous worldwide problem, especially in several African nations," Nature quoted Nancy Haigwood, researcher and director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, as saying.
Their strategy: to educate part of the baby's immune system within the first few hours of birth to better fight of the disease.
Babies born to HIV-infected mothers have HIV-specific neutralizing antibodies at the time of birth that are "passively" acquired across the placenta.
Haigwood and her colleagues wanted to determine whether boosted neutralizing antibody levels would weaken the disease's ability to overtake the body's defenses.
The researchers injected in a group of infant monkeys, antibodies matched to simian/human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV), which is a hybrid virus used in research to ensure that results translate between species.
They found that the "HIV-matched" animals were better protected from the virus. They developed higher levels of neutralizing antibodies and, had low levels of SHIV in their blood plasma six months post-infection.
In future studies, the researchers hope to learn whether higher doses of antibodies translate into greater protection for the infants.
"This research demonstrates that boosting the body's HIV antibodies by a time-honoured method of passive transfer that would use new HIV-specific human monoclonal antibodies may be a strategy for reducing infection levels and protecting CD4+ T cells in newborn children," said Haigwood.
"While the treatment would not likely prevent infection, it could limit the levels of infection in children which would greatly reduce suffering and extend lives," she added.
The study will be published in the October 3rd online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.