Scientists Making Progress on AIDS Vaccine, but Slowly
On Wednesday at the 19th International AIDS Conference, the director of the Duke University School of Medicine’s Human Vaccine Institute reported on the discovery of a series of “Achilles heels” on the surface of HIV - developments that have reignited the search for an AIDS vaccine.
“We know the face of the enemy now,” Bart Haynes said. “We have some real clues about how to approach the problem.” He detailed several key challenges that have made developing a vaccine so difficult.
Because HIV is a retrovirus, Haynes said, it does not simply infect the body: It inserts itself into a cell’s genome. “An HIV vaccine must totally prevent infection,” he said. “Once infection occurs, the virus inserts into the genome, and the immune system can’t kill it.”
In addition, though the body tries to defend itself, it cannot keep up with rapid pace at which HIV mutates. To be effective, an HIV vaccine would have to stimulate the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies to attack the virus regardless of its mutations.
Haynes said scientists have discovered potential weak points on HIV that appear to stay the same, even as the virus mutates. These could become the targets for vaccines.
Another issue, according to Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, is HIV’s ability to hide itself and confuse the immune system. This raises the risk that a vaccinated person’s body would produce the proper antibodies, but that these would be unrecognized by the immune system and marked for elimination.
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