Study in Cambodia, Thailand Shows Some White Blood Cells Can Combat HIV

An international study into HIV treatment in Cambodian and Thai children has found that some children who had not received HIV treatment stayed healthy because they have a unique pattern of white blood cells. This finding could help scientists find improved HIV treatment for children, researchers said.

Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and the HIV Netherlands Australia Thailand Research Collaboration in Bangkok in collaboration with the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD in Phnom Penh followed HIV treatment in 222 children aged 1 to 12 years old for three years in order to find out what happens to the different white blood cell types after treatment.

The research found that among these children, who came from seven provinces in Thailand and two treatment centers in Phnom Penh, 50 were healthy before the start of treatment, although they had never taken anti-HIV medicines, Baylor College said in a news release Tuesday.

HIV kills white blood cells that help fight infections. Without treatment, most children become sick and more than one-third die from AIDS by age 5. Experts call those who are still healthy without treatment at age 8 “long-term non-progressors,” the release said.

Researchers said they found that these long-term non-progressors children had higher values of infection-fighting types of white blood cells compared to children who demonstrated worsening of HIV disease.

“This study is one of the largest to discern the white blood cell types found in the so-called long-term non-progressors,” said Dr William Shearer, professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “These children are unique, and it is important we find out why.”

The findings could help improve HIV treatment and medication for children, researchers said, adding that follow-up research would try to identify cell types in the blood that are important for HIV control.

Tony Lisle, UNAids coordinator in Cambodia, said the study did not reveal anything new, as previous research had shown that “for some reasons, mostly genetic,” in some adults and children HIV does not progress to AIDS.

“They are very much a small minority,” Mr Lisle stressed, “For the majority of people an HIV infection will develop into AIDS over time.”

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