Micrograph showing HIV fusing with a cell membrane on entry. ‚© 2002 by Bruce Alberts et al.

Micrograph showing HIV fusing with a cell membrane on entry. ‚© 2002 by Bruce Alberts et al.

Scientists in Thailand have announced the first success, though limited, of its kind in the development of an HIV vaccine last night.

AIDS is a serious disease, as we’re sure you know. In 2007, AIDS killed approximately 2.1 million people “" not exactly a small population. With million of new diagnoses each year, every major worldwide health organization has declared AIDS to be a pandemic.

Currently, the only medications available are highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) regimens. Developed with a patient’s doctor, three or four drugs are prescribed in combination to be taken together, in which the drugs and dosing are optimized for each patient. Those without access to industrialized medicine are without the benefits of these drugs. So, the best bet we have to defeating HIV is to prevent infection from occurring in the first place.

A vaccine that prevents HIV from infecting health immune cells or from spreading beyond them is the ultimate goal of research programs, but to date, every one has failed. The most recent program even showed an increase in HIV infection in those who received the vaccine, leading to an early termination of the program. Many scientists have actually called for HIV vaccine programs to be called off entirely, assuming that none of them would ever show any promise.

The vaccine under development is a combination of two previous vaccines that did show any benefit when used singularly. However, used together, the vaccines were able to prevent about thirty percent of HIV infections over the placebo treatment, a result that surprised

The vaccine works by shuttling three genes that code for proteins on the HIV virus in side a different, benign virus in an attempt to get the body to start producing antibodies against the HIV proteins, priming the immune system to attack HIV upon entry.

Scientists were disappointed however to see that those who received the virus yet became infected did not show lower viral loads than those who did not receive the virus. Also, vaccines licensed by the FDA in the US usually show about an eighty percent efficacy rate, so it’s very doubtful that the vaccine will ever come to market.This is why scientists stress that the study is an important starting point for the further development and optimization of a better HIV vaccine.

About The Author

Michael Kaufmann, lover of all things science and gadget, is a contributing editor at Blast. He can be reached at kaufmann.m@blastmagazine.com.

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