York Alum Making News In AIDS 'Cure'

Deborah Persaud, M.D., a York College/CUNY graduate of the Class of 1981 is being celebrated as part of the team that may have discovered a way to “functionally cure” AIDS in infants.

Dr. Persaud, a professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, once received a large grant from the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation to help fund her research. She was called upon to help study the case of a Mississippi toddler diagnosed with the virus at birth and may have been cured of the disease even though the mother had suspended treatment.

The baby, said to have been infected by the mother during birth, was given a “faster and stronger treatment” than is usual, with a “three-drug infusion” within the first 30 hours of birth. The treatment, according to reports, was administered before lab results even confirmed the baby’s HIV status.

Now two and a half years old, extensive tests have found no active signs other than “traces of the virus’ genetic material still lingering.” Persaud and her colleagues announced the news at an AIDS conference in Atlanta. Experts say the news, “offers promising clues” in the fight against HIV infection in children, especially in Africa where the disease still rages.

Dr. Persaud, a Guyanese immigrant, was a Chemistry major at York who studied in the lab of Dr. Paul Young and took a Genetics course with Biology professor, Dr. Leslie Lewis, known for his groundbreaking research in jumping genes.

Dr. Lewis who has retired from York has been following the news on his former student.

“This is huge,” said Lewis. “Debbie took my genetics course and was brilliant. There was no doubt in my mind that she would be doing medical research. She is living proof of what the MBRS (Minority Biomedical Research Support) can do to help students reach their full potential. It boosts them -- Kudos to York!”

After graduating from York, Dr. Persaud attended New York University School of Medicine, graduating in 1985 with her medical degree.

“I am delighted to see Dr. Persaud’s cutting-edge research in pediatric AIDS making news for her role in the possible cure for children afflicted with the disease,” said Dr. Marcia V. Keizs, president of York College. “Dr. Persaud developed her early research skills in the labs of great professors at York and I am honored to call her our alum. Her work is the stuff of Nobel Prizes and I look forward to seeing her life’s work make a difference not only in the United States but across the globe.”

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