Progress on HIV Vaccine Research Slow Because of ‘Complexity’ of Virus, IAVI Official Says
Although several potential HIV vaccines currently are being tested in clinical trials, scientists do not know how long it will be before an effective vaccine is discovered, Emilio Emini, vice president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said on Thursday in San Antonio at a meeting of scientists who use nonhuman primates to study HIV/AIDS, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Emini said that progress on an HIV vaccine has been slow because of the "complexity" of the virus, which mutates frequently, according to the Express-News. Most vaccines for other diseases work by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that attack a virus or bacterium. However, HIV damages the immune system, making it difficult to produce an effective vaccine using traditional techniques, the Express-News reports. HIV does not "complete[ly]" destroy the immune system, Emini said, adding that "the more you understand the struggle, the more you know to design a vaccine that can give [the immune system] the advantage." Research now is focused on producing a "cell-mediated" immune response, which enables certain immune cells to kill HIV once it has entered the body, Emini said, according to the Express-News. One "promising" formula uses a weakened cold virus, or adenovirus, as a vehicle to carry pieces of HIV that stimulate the immune system, according to Emini, the Express-News reports. Emini compared the search for an HIV vaccine to Christopher Columbus' voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. "Until the guy up at the top of the ship yelled, 'Land, land,' he had no idea where he was," Emini said, adding, "[Scientists] have no idea where we are. For all we know, we are a day away from somebody yelling, 'Land, land,' or we may have months to go" (Tumiel, San Antonio Express-News, 11/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.