Chancellor raps federal cuts on heels of HIV discovery

By Lisa M. Larson and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

March 06, 2013

Chancellor Michael F. Collins from the University of Massachusetts Medical School—home to researchers who were part of the team credited this week with the breakthrough discovery of a baby’s “functional HIV cure”—is speaking out against federal budget cuts he says will seriously jeopardize future advancements.

“We hear such incredible news about a discovery, a child who looks as if she’s been cured of HIV, at the same time ‘government by daring’ is going to cause a large reduction in our nation’s investment in medical research. To me, that’s just crazy,” Chancellor Collins said. “Research means hope. Research can bring change to the human condition and research actually can bring human dignity to patients.”

UMMS Professor Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, a nationally known AIDS researcher, is one of three doctors who reported the discovery of a functional cure of HIV in a Mississippi baby at the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta this week. The infant underwent remission of HIV infection after receiving antiretroviral therapy within 30 hours of birth. The investigators from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and UMMS say the prompt administration of antiviral treatment likely led to this infant’s cure by halting the formation of hard-to-treat viral reservoirs—dormant cells responsible for reigniting the infection in most HIV patients within weeks of stopping therapy.

The finding, the investigators said, may help pave the way to eliminating HIV infection in children. But Collins said it is exactly research such as this that could be dramatically affected as the so-called sequestration takes effect.

The HIV research in this case was paid for by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for AIDS Research. NIH is facing an 8.2 percent across-the-board cut as a result of sequestration, which amounts to about a $1.6 billion budget cut.

“Governmental leaders need to understand that the investments that they’ve been making in biomedical research enterprise are actually fueling these great discoveries,” Collins said. “Much like an engine on takeoff, this is no time to take the fuel out of the tank.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:

Researchers describe first 'functional HIV cure' in an infant

Early HIV treatment aids long-term viral suppression in teens