Hope springs for modern medicine with promising results for a new HIV vaccine. The virus that causes AIDS has claimed the lives of 40 million people throughout the world and another 35 million are currently infected. Since its first breakout 30 years ago, few have gotten close to finding a cure, but researchers are closing in on finding a solution.
Treatments have highly improved in the last few years, but no permanent fix has been found. Patients have better chances of living longer with the disease without ever being rid of it entirely. It’s stated that a lack of progress is due to pharmaceutical companies being reluctant to give it another try after Merck’s clinical trial failure in 2007.
The research community has struggled, but the experimental Johnson & Johnson vaccine has passed trials on monkeys with flying colors, completely preventing HIV infection in half the test subjects. It works through a two-phase procedure. First, they infect the monkeys with adenovirus 26, otherwise known as the common cold, which sends the immune system into action as the disease spreads.
The difficulty in finding a way to successfully prevent HIV stems from the fact that the virus itself infects the cells the body uses for protection. Its dispersion is fast and unpredictable, making it impossible for our immune system to produce antibodies quick enough for defense. That is where first step comes into play.
The injection of common cold virus essentially wakes up the body and prepares it for the second wave, which is aggressive infection with a purified HIV protein. It further sends the immune system into overdrive, thus forcing it to fight the virus. Due to the fact that the virus only attacks humans and that the experiment was conducted on monkeys, researchers note that the test subjects have been injected with high levels of the simian immunodeficiency virus.
That is a much higher dose of the same virus that humans get in an average sexual exposure, which is why they are confident the vaccine’s results will be even more successful in humans. A similar experiment has been approved for Ebola by the same company, which has now reached human trials. It paints a good picture for future success.
Even after six exposures with a virus that is strong enough to have 100% chance of infection, half the monkeys remained perfectly healthy after vaccination. That in itself is said to be 100 times greater than what we might see in humans. The trial’s success has encouraged the company into starting an international human trial, with 400 volunteers already signed up from the US, Africa and Thailand.
Further success will see the vaccine moving forward in the next 18 to 24 months. This is the first true battle against HIV in the last several years. Even if the odds of preventing infections in the future will be 50%, it will be an huge step forward and a breakthrough for modern medicine.
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