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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Hopeful vaccine discovered for HIV/AIDS

By the end of the 1960s, lethal infectious disease was well under control in developed countries. Due to the advancement of vaccines and antibiotic medication, microbes that once caused mass epidemics rarely caused problems to those with full-functioning immune systems. It seemed, at the turn of the decade, that infectious disease no longer posed a major threat to those living in countries with progressive medicine.

“I think people thought it was the end of infectious disease at the end of the ’60s,said François Barré-Sinnousi, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of HIV.But we were wrong.

HIV, a formidable pathogen, is extremely successful because the virus has a very high replication rate and the enzymes responsible for its replication are prone to error. When the body’s immune system cells finally recognize the virus, the virus has already mutated and changed its properties, essentially eluding any white blood cells that normally identify and destroy the agent. Moreover, the body’s defense mechanisms are always a step behind the virus.

Barré-Sinnousi and her colleagues identified the virus responsible for AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency virus, in the early ’80s. Her discussion last week marked a significant a breakthrough discovery in HIV/AIDS research.

Late last week, researchers in Thailand published results of a promising vaccine study involving 16,000 volunteers over a six-year period. The results found that vaccinated individuals contracted HIV at a rate one-third lower than controls.

“The vaccine trial just announced says that 30 to 31 percent efficacy is possible,said Paul Luciw, professor of pathology and comparative medicine at UC Davis.That’s still pretty low, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The co-discoverer of HIV was also optimistic.

“Now we know that maybe a vaccine is possible,Barré-Sinnousi said.Certainly this vaccine trial has important implications for future HIV vaccine research.

The modest success of the vaccine trial is the first step in developing a vaccine that researchers hope will one day be highly safe and effective.

“The development of a vaccine has been going on for over 20 years,Luciw said.The complexity of the virus and the immune system makes it difficult to come up with a highly effective vaccine, though.

Because the virus has spread across the globewith worldwide estimates that 30 to 36 million individuals are currently HIV-positiveresearchers stressed that international collaboration between public and private sectors is essential in preventing, treating and curing AIDS.

As a scientist who has been present and studying the disease from it’s early years, Barré-Sinnousi reflected on the strides made in modern medicine, especially with the introduction of the new HIV/AIDS vaccine.

“It was in our mind to identify and characterize the virus,Barré-Sinnousi said.It was really the spirit to rush, to provide for prevention tools. It was the worst period in terms of the disease itself, but it was a period of wonderful collaboration.

HIV, a formidable pathogen, is extremely successful because the virus has a very high replication rate and the enzymes responsible for its replication are prone to error. When the body’s immune system cells finally recognize the virus, the virus has already mutated and changed its properties, essentially eluding any white blood cells that normally identify and destroy the agent. Moreover, the body’s defense mechanisms are always a step behind the virus.

“We have new challenges, technologies and concepts which lead to new discoveries,Barré-Sinnousi said.We have a new generation of players, and I would like to say to new scientists: please keep in mind the way we have been working since the beginning of the discovery of HIV. It’s all together that we will win this fight against HIV/AIDS.

 

MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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