Gene mutation helps adults and newborns

CHICAGO (AP) — A gene mutation that slows the progression of AIDS in adults also helps newborns infected with HIV fend off serious illnesses associated with the disease, a study found.
The mutation, which occurs on a gene called CCR5, is believed to be absent in blacks and Asians but present in 10 to 15 percent of whites.
“There is a significant delay in the appearance of clinical and biological symptoms,” said Dr. Micheline Misrahi, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in Paris.
In the study, HIV-infected newborns with the mutation stayed free from illness much longer than infants who lacked the mutation, the researchers reported in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
By age 8, only 11 percent of HIV-infected babies with the mutation had suffered serious AIDS-related maladies, such as severe bacterial illnesses, compared with 49 percent of babies who lacked the mutation.
The finding could someday help scientists develop new drugs to prevent or kill HIV infection in newborns, the researchers said.
Such a treatment would help all races because it would give them the biological advantage now afforded only by the gene mutation, a U.S. scientist said.
In the United States, about 500 babies of HIV-infected mothers are born with the virus each year. In developing countries, the rate is more than 300,000 a year and increasing.
Without treatment, more than 25 percent of HIV-positive mothers will pass the disease to their newborns. With current anti-viral drugs, the rate is about 8 percent.
An expert with the National Cancer Institute said the French study is the first to show that a gene mutation can slow HIV-disease progression in newborns as well as in adults.
“It looks like the effect could actually be a little stronger in these children,” said Dr. Thomas R. O’Brien, a viral epidemiologist who was not involved in the work.
Two other types of gene mutations have been shown to be protective in varying degrees in adults, and more may exist, he said.
The study involved data from 52 French medical centers on 512 newborns born to HIV-infected mothers between 1983 and 1996. A total of 276 of the newborns were infected.