Scientists have found a way to cure an HIV-like infection that is found in monkeys, called SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus.) Researchers are hoping the new study could pave the way to a cure for HIV in humans. The monkeys were completely cured in 9 out of 16 cases, and some say the experiment could be a possible breakthrough in the fight against HIV infection. SIV is 100 times as deadly as HIV. Human trials of the experiment are slated to start with the next two years.
Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute researcher Louis Picker says that strict controls were used during the study, and scientists feel confident in stating the treatment they gave the monkeys can be classified as a cure: “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.”
Unlike many other vaccines, this experiment utilized a live virus, one that is related to herpes. This live virus entered the monkeys’ bodies and was able to not only find, but eradicate the HIV-similar virus by activating the body’s immune system against SIV. While it only worked in 9 out of the 16 monkeys treated, the monkeys who survived were still 100% free and clear of the virus at checkpoints of one and a half years and three years.
In this initial experiment, the monkeys were first given the vaccine, and then the HIV-like infection. Researchers have plans to conduct more experiments in which the monkeys will be infected with the HIV like infection first and then given the vaccine to see if the same or better results will occur.
While this could pave the way to finding a cure to human HIV infection, the researchers stress the need for caution in moving forward with any human trials. Safety would be of the utmost concern, especially since in these studies, they have been using a live virus. Says Picker:
In order to make a human version we have to make sure it is absolutely safe. The researchers now want to move from monkeys to test the vaccine in humans. We have now engineered a CMV virus which generates the same immune response but has been attenuated [modified to lose its virulence] to the point where we think it is unequivocally safe.
An exciting aspect of the study is that while the virus used was a live member of the herpes family, that virus itself did not cause infection in the monkeys. Instead, it turned into a safe, stealth killer of the HIV-like infection. This study joins a body of ongoing research into using live viruses to combat deadly infections.
The Herpes virus that was used to cure the HIV like infection was modified from its original form. This modification could be crucial in preventing infection from that virus. Researchers are cautiously optimistic about the new vaccine because it could be the key that unlocks a complete cure for HIV infection. More research and studies are underway.
The video below discusses additional work being done on finding an HIV vaccine:
By: Rebecca Savastio