The Nature journal has published that a vaccine has prevented AIDS-like disease in monkeys. Nine out of 16 vaccinated monkeys were completely cured.
This virus, called SIVmac239, or the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), is similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), but can be up to 100 times more aggressive than HIV. Monkeys that carry SIV usually die within two years of infection.
Professor Louis Picker, from the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health and Science University told the BBC that: “It’s always tough to claim eradication – there could always be a cell which we didn’t analyze that has the virus in it. But for the most part, with very stringent criteria… there was no virus left in the body of these monkeys.”
How Monkeys Trials Were Conducted
The vaccine is a modified version of the cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is a form of herpes. It has the ability to quickly spread throughout a body and drive the immune system to fight off the real threat, the SIV molecules.
Then the vaccine creates a military-like force that patrols all parts of the body for as long as the body is living.
Rhesus macaque monkeys were first given the vaccine and then SIV was introduced into their system. The disease did spread, but then astonishingly, some of the monkeys’ immune systems responded, hunted, and killed all traces of SIV.
One and a half to three years later after vaccination and infection, the monkeys that had cleared the virus are still healthy and show no signs of AIDS symptoms.
However, it is a mystery why only about half of the monkeys were able to fight off SIV with the vaccine. Prof Picker simply says, “It could be the fact that SIV is so pathogenic that this is the best you are ever going to get.”
Human Trials Could Soon Be Started
Scientists in the US now want to test a similar vaccine for humans and HIV. But in order for human trials to happen the vaccine must be absolutely 100 percent safe.
The first clinical trials for humans can happen in the next two years if everything passes through the regulatory authorities.
Dr Andrew Freedman, from Cardiff University School of Medicine, comments, “This suggests that prophylactic vaccines (vaccines that prevent infection) using CMV vectors may be a promising approach for HIV.”
Freedman adds, “While they may not prevent the initial infection, they might lead to subsequent clearance, rather than the establishment of chronic infection.” This research is a ray of hope in the long battle with AIDS.
According to an United Nations annual report on the AIDS epidemic, there has been huge strides against AIDS with the numbers of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths continuing to fall. Many global organizations have increased spending for AIDS research and effective treatments.
While 35 million in the world live with the HIV virus, $19 billion was spent in the research for its cure in 2012. The UN report states that at least $22 billion will be needed each year by 2015 to continue successful AIDS-related studies such as the above research conducted by Prof Picker and his team.
Written by: Chelo Aestrid