Finally, we could actually be closer than ever in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Researchers have found a new drug that’s so potent against all strains of HIV that it may be possible to use it as a vaccine against the deadly virus.
So, yeah, this is pretty huge news.
The drug is developed by researchers from more than a dozen research institutions and led by a team at the Scripps Research Institute in the US. They found it to be effective against doses of HIV-1 and HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) that have been extracted from humans or rhesus macaques – including what researchers consider to be the toughest variants to combat.
It even worked against doses of HIV that are way higher than what would be transmitted between humans, working for eight months after injection, making the compound the broadest and most potent.
Unlike traditional vaccines, which work by delivering a small, weakened dose of the virus to your immune system, to combat an attack, this drug offers something different. HIV turns our immune system against us by targeting our T lymphocytes – a very specialized type of white blood cell – and injecting its own genetic material inside to transform them into HIV-producing machines.
Now, the researchers have discovered that a particular type of protein found on the surface of white blood cells can bind to the surface of the HIV virus in two different places simultaneously. Meaning, not only does the virus no longer have a chance to change the position of its receptors to escape; it’s also being blocked from entering the T lymphocyte cells.
“When antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease,” said one of the team of researchers Matthew Gardner, from the Scripps Institute. “We’ve developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.”
The vaccine would then deliver a weak, harmless type of virus that would introduce a section of DNA to a patient’s healthy muscle cells, containing instructions for how to produce this HIV-blocking protein. That protein would then be pumped into the bloodstream repeatedly, offering the patient protection from the virus for at least several months.
Apparently, the effects of the drug lasted for at least 34 weeks in the monkey subjects, and they believe that they could get it to last for years, perhaps even decades.
The primary concern at the moment involves safety issues with giving it to a large group of people, including the long-term implications of an anti-HIV response being pumped into their body non-stop.
We’ll have to wait and see. Either way, the development makes us optimistic that we’ll see an effective vaccine in our lifetime.