This week researchers at the University of Oregon have shown that a vaccination to protect against SIV, the monkey version of HIV, appears to be effective and might offer hope for a human vaccine at some point in the future. 9 of the 16 monkeys that were inoculated showed no signs of the infection between one and three years after initially becoming infected, effectively being cleared of SIV (see here for info). Although the human virus, HIV, is different it does bring the chance of a vaccination for humans a step closer and if an effective vaccine is found it might be used to treat and even cure those who seroconvert. Obviously stringent testing would be needed before any vaccination was approved for human use.
There are two main types of HIV vaccine which are currently being trialled: a “preventive” vaccine, which would stop HIV infection occurring altogether, and a “therapeutic” vaccine, which would not stop infection, but would prevent or delay illness in people who do become infected. This might also reduce the risk of them transmitting the virus to other people. Finding an HIV vaccine is complicated because the approach used for many vaccines – e.g. to imitate the body’s natural immunity to the infection – does not work as nobody has recovered from HIV infection so there is no natural mechanism to imitate to use in a vaccine (see here). Also, in effect, the HIV virus ‘hides’ in our DNA and appears to be invisible making the job of finding a vaccine more difficult. Approaches are currently being trailed which ‘shock the virus out of its hiding place’ to wake it up and make it detectable and allow it to be destroyed (see a Guardian article on the topic here).
For many working in HIV prevention the creation of a vaccine is a high priority, and current and past trials are promising, although there is a long way to go until an effective HIV vaccine is found. The International HIV vaccine Initiative’s database show that there are various ongoing clinical vaccine trials taking place across the world which are attempting to further our understanding of the virus and establish a vaccine. For more information on these please see here.
What do you think of research to come up with an HIV vaccine? Would you participate in trials such as these? Please leave any comments yu might have below.
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