A very promising vaccine trial to treat HIV took place earlier this year. A report published in February by IAVI and Scripps Research reported a very successful initial trial for an HIV vaccine. This is a huge discovery not only for HIV research and treatment but for vaccine research in general.
What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that takes over cells in the body of an infected person and weakens the immune system, making it impossible for the virus to get cleared out of the infected person. HIV can be spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid or pre-cum, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. People can become infected with HIV by sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV. AIDS is the final stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if or when their immune system is no longer working the way it should. HIV turns into AIDS if the virus is untreated and weakens the immune system over time. Thanks to modern medicine, someone with HIV can live a full and healthy life and never progress to AIDS. This promising vaccine trial is another great step in the right direction for HIV treatment.
How does the HIV vaccine work?
The vaccine is designed to target B cells, which then will trigger the body to produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies.” The vaccine is designed to be an “immune primer” and produces several different types of bnAbs. Using bnAbs has been a method for HIV treatment for many years, and this vaccine is targeting these antibodies as part of a multi-step vaccine treatment plan. The theory is that these antibodies will attach to HIVs surface proteins, disabling them once they enter the human body.
HIV has been a notoriously difficult virus to develop a vaccine for because of how quickly it mutates. This initial trial was 97% successful, which seems extremely promising. This trial used 48 participants, giving some a placebo and some the actual vaccine. The trial had success in producing the bnAbs the scientist created it to produce. Many scientists involved are excited about this vaccine working for HIV, but also using a similar method to develop vaccines for other viruses that are quickly mutating as well.
The stigma of HIV/AIDS
During the 1980s when the HIV and AIDS epidemic hit, there was so much prejudice and misinformation going around. People with the virus did not get the treatment they needed, and because the virus was so new, very little was known about it. Since the epidemic, so much research has been done to make living with HIV totally possible and nontransmittable to others. Many medications have been developed over the years to treat HIV, and this vaccine showing promise in the early stages is exciting as well. With each new development, the stigma of living with HIV will shrink, and those who do have the virus will be able to live a totally healthy life and keep the virus under control.
For more information on the initial vaccine trials, check out this article from europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com.