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This HIV vaccine looks promising

The vaccine appears to have completely cleared the virus from monkeys.

Image: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Press Association Images

RESEARCHERS IN THE US have reported significant progress in their development of a vaccine against HIV.

The Oregon Health and Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute published an update in the journal Nature today, outlining latest test results which show that their vaccine appears to completely clear the virus from in monkeys.

The scientists have used a non-human primate form of HIV – called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) – which causes AIDS in monkeys in their experiments but they hope a HIV-form of the vaccine candidate can be tested on humans soon.

“To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly-publicised but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with anti-viral medicines very early after the onset of infection or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer,” said Louis Picker, associate director of the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.

“This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body.”

Picker’s lab uses cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a common virus already carried by a large percentage of the population in its candidate vaccine. The researchers found that the engineered CMV which expressed SIV proteins can generate and maintain cells that search out and destroy SIV-infected cells.

According to Science Daily, about 50 percent of monkeys given highly pathogenic SIV after being vaccinated with this vaccine became infected with SIV but over time eliminated all trace of SIV from the body.

In effect, the hunters of the body were provided with a much better targeting system and better weapons to help them find and destroy an elusive enemy.

“Through this method we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defences’ to combat the disease,” explained Picker.

“Our vaccine mobilised a T-cell response that was able to overtake the SIV invaders in 50 per cent of the cases treated. Moreover, in those cases with a positive response, our testing suggests SIV was banished from the host. We are hopeful that pairing our modified CMV vector with HIV will lead to a similar result in humans.”

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