Scientists from Brazil have declared that later this year, they will be performing tests on rhesus monkeys with HIVBr18, a new vaccination for HIV, according to a medical report from Edge.
The vaccine, which the research team began working on as far back as 2001, has a new facet to its function, bringing with it new hopes to finally find a cure for the worldwide pandemic now affecting 33 million people today.
The function of the HIVBr18 vaccine is to keep the viral load sufficiently low enough to prevent an HIV-infected person from acquiring immunodeficiency, but more specifically, from being able to spread the HIV virus to a person who has not been infected.
The research scientists, from the faculty of medicine at the University of Sao Paulo are said to have developed and patented the vaccine, with funding also being provided by the Brazilian city’s State Research Foundation (FAPESP).
The team, consisting of Simone Fonseca, Jorge Kalil and Edecio Cunha Neto, has created a variety of techniques, including one used to test the vaccine on rhesus monkeys, as they are the closest of our living primates in the animal kingdom, in terms of the structure of the immune system. Rhesus monkeys, who are prone to the contraction of SIV, or Simian Immunology Virus, are thought to be instrumental in the crossover of infection from simian to human, the process of which, it has been documented, led to HIV in humans. According to Neto, this would become the antecedent to testing on humans:
“Our goal is to test various immunization methods to select the one capable of inducing a stronger immunological response and thus be able to test it on humans,” he said.
The vaccine itself is not able to completely rid the body of the virus, although it is expected to prevent transmission between and an HIV-positive person and an HIV-negative person, which in itself, suggests massive break-though. These trials, which are anticipated to continue for two years, would also pave the way to an understanding on how to halt the progression of HIV in its tracks, in a person who is or has been tested HIV positive.
It is hoped that following successful completion of the trials on monkeys and dependent on the receipt of adequate funding, the research team intends to initiate trials of the HIVBr18 vaccine on humans.
The creation of a vaccine for HIV is complex on many levels. Conventionally, vaccines such as the one for polio would work by imitating our body’s natural immunity against reinfection; however, the same rule does not apply for HIV.
The problem with HIV infection is also that as a virus, it can be highly irretrievable, in that it can exist in various parts of the system, occurring mainly in the genital tract. Once anti-retroviral drugs are administered effectively, the patient’s viral load can become undetectable and isolated to sit also in the lymph nodes and gut. The virus itself has been known to hide deep within the patient’s DNA, rendering itself invisible to the immune system and therefore to drugs and in so doing, it becomes part of the person’s genetic code, according to an interview on Australian radio with Professor Sharon Lewin, director of infectious diseases at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne Australia.
Earlier this year, Lewin and her research team announced that they have figured out how to “wake up the HIV virus from its hiding place” with a strategy dubbed “shock and kill.” This procedure was achieved with the use of a cancer drug used to treat a rare form of skin cancer, by waking up the sleeping or hiding HIV-infected cells to make them detectable in order to be destroyed. Whether previous trials within her research has been undertaken on rhesus monkeys, like that of the research with the HIVBr18 vaccine being carried out in Brazil, has not been established.
Once the cells have been woken up from its genetic hiding place, the immune system can see the virus with the use of drugs so that the infected cell can be targeted and eliminated. Tests were performed on 20 HIV-positive patients, whose viral-loads were undetectable; they were all un-infectious and had been well for many years. Of the 20 patients, 18 of them were found to have had their infected sleeping cells woken up, which means that they have the potential to be killed off with another agent.
Professor Lewin explained that there are a number of ways on what might kill the cell itself, including kick starting the immune system with a vaccine, or other drugs that can boost the immune system (thus facilitating the initiation of the fighting off process), or perhaps the administering of more of the cancer drug Vorinostat, an inhibitor used to treat cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma (CTCL), a type of skin cancer.
T-cells belong to a group of white blood cells (WBC), called lymphocytes. Their main job is to fight infection. Cancer cells sometimes have too many enzymes, which then stop the cells from creating enough proteins required to keep them from growing and dividing too rapidly.
Further research is being conducted at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, where “novel” clinical trials are being conducted. This study involves the flushing of the HIV virus from these hidden reservoirs within the DNA, with the help of another vaccine. This vaccine is designed to “hunt and destroy,” although so far, it is only effective on human skin cells under laboratory conditions. Dr. Ole Sogaard, a senior researcher from the infectious diseases department of the University said:
“The challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognize the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems.”
The study in Denmark involves fifteen researchers and has received $2.1 million from the Danish Research Council. It is understood that similar research is also taking place with British researchers, within a separate 15-university syndicate.
While the studies being carried out in Brazil and Denmark might not necessarily prevent HIV/AIDS, they would most likely be able to cure those already infected with the HIV virus, or at least that is the hope. Coupled with the methods outlined in the Australian research by Professor Lewin, whereby the infected sleeping cells within the DNA can be woken up, the evidence proves that it is only a matter of time before scientists finally find a combination of cures that can seek out and eradicate the problematic cells that carry the HIV/AIDS virus.
Written by: Brucella Newman