The technique, which is still in experimental stages, takes advantage of a rare mutation that makes one percent of people of European descent resistant to HIV.
Using a new "genome editing" tool, researchers are hoping to be able to insert the mutation into the cells of other people - and they've already proved the basic principles work using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), Peter Aldhous reports for New Scientist.
The new genome editing technique is much more precise than tradition forms of genetic engineering, as it places a sequence of gene into a pre-designated area of the genome, rather than at random locations.
By using this technique, researchers led by Yuet Kan from the University of California, San Francico, have managed to alter the genome of iPSCs, which can turn into any cell in the body. As predicted, when the scientists grew these iPSCs into white blood cells, they were resistant to HIV.
Deborah Persaud, of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, is the lead author of a report recounting the child's treatment. The identity of the little girl, who was born to an HIV-positive woman in rural Mississippi, has yet to be released. What we do know is that she is only the second person in the world — and the first child — to be cured of HIV in its devastating 32-year history. If the case is confirmed, it is truly unprecedented.