According to reports out of the Oregon Health and Science University, training the immune system to fend off HIV during the first hours after birth may reduce the chance of HIV infection in infants. HIV is transmitted to infants from the mother at an alarming rate. Many health based organizations spend millions of dollars for education and treatment options for HIV positive mothers and infants born to mothers with HIV. While treatment before pregnancy can help prevent transmission to baby, many women do not seek out treatment due to either lack of funds or lack of available treatment options.

Instead of focusing on traditional HIV therapy for infants, researchers chose to attack the virus from a different angle. Three groups of infant monkeys were prepared for HIV infection. The first group was given healthy mother antibodies. The second group was given antibodies naturally occurring in the body when infected with SHIV, the simian version of HIV. The final group was given HIV antibodies that did not exactly match the virus they would be infected with.

The two groups of infant monkeys receiving HIV antibodies maintained T-cell counts and tested with lower levels of the virus in their blood when compared to the group treated with antibodies from a healthy female. Antibodies were delivered in very low doses. Researchers will continue this study with larger amounts of antibodies to seek if even more protection is passed to infants.

While the study has yet to include humans, the results are significant for the human population. Antibodies are the human body’s way of fighting infection. Researchers believe introducing the body to antibodies early may prevent a more harmful infection and thus prolong life.

Source: Nancy Haigwood PhD and colleagues. Funded by National Institutes of Health and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. 4 October, 2010.