If 2012 is to be the year of AIDS victory, where the virus comes crumbling down at the hands of medicine and giant brains in lab coats, we’re off to a fantastic start. A vaccine tested on monkeys has been found to be 80-percent effective in protecting against SIV, the simian immunodeficiency virus, an imperfect analog to HIV, but as close as you can get without testing on people. The new results were published online by Nature yesterday.
Science hasn’t had a whole lot of luck so far with HIV vaccines. Most that work well on monkeys and SIV don’t translate to people, or translate well enough. So far, the best we’ve got going is a vaccine regimine found to be up to 30-percent effective among populations in Thailand (with about 16,000 total test subjects), with no impact at all on those already infected at the time of vaccination. The hope is that the research announced today can be combined with 2009’s and, well, that researchers can make something better than either vaccine regimen and eliminate HIV from the planet.
The idea is, basically, to create different versions of the SIV/HIV viruses expressing certain genes that get the body’s immune system to react in a certain way. In this case, the most successful vaccine doses caused the body to release protiens that attach to the protien “envelopes” surrounding the actual virus. This tended to keep the body free from infection, and it mirrors the immune responses seem in humans successfully protected from HIV in the Thai study. Moreover, even in the monkeys that got infected, the animal’s immune systems were still able to keep the viruses at low levels through different immune responses.
Looking at the two studies together, it looks an awful lot like something fairly real has “clicked.” Death to dead ends, right?. A blog post at nature.com has a reaction to the new study from Bruce Walker, a virologist at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard: ““To me, if it’s possible in monkeys it’s got to be possible in humans.”
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Image: the University of Wisconsin