Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have reported a major breakthrough in the field of HIV research, claiming they have created a vaccine that completely eradicates the virus that causes AIDS in some monkeys, Discovery News reported.
And the next step? Testing the vaccine in humans.
Their research, which was published in the journal Nature, showed that half of the monkeys they tested responded to the vaccine. The monkeys were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is similar to HIV in humans but 100 times more deadly.
“It’s always tough to claim eradication — there could always be a cell which we didn’t analyze that has the virus in it,” Louis Picker, of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at OHSU, told the BBC News. “But for the most part, with very stringent criteria … there was no virus left in the body of these monkeys.”
According to Discovery News, Picker and his team created the vaccine by using a modified version of a common – though mostly harmless – virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). When the CMV was exposed to the SIV, it prompted the monkey’s white blood cells to respond and attack the SIV.
Of the monkeys who responded to the vaccine, they were still SIV-free up to three years later.
“Through this method, we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defenses’ to combat the disease,” Picker said in a press release.
While the researchers are still trying to determine why some monkeys did not successfully respond to the vaccine, they are hopeful that this technique could work in humans. They have licensed the CMV method to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and if it is approved by the proper regulatory authorities, Picker said they could potentially start clinical trials in humans in the next two years.
Scientists have come a long way in the field of HIV/AIDS research, and although there is still no cure for the virus, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be. Many anti-retroviral drug combinations are currently available to patients – such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs) and integrase inhibitors – which help to control the virus before it becomes too aggressive. Researchers have also discovered ways to combine these drugs into a single pill that HIV/AIDS patients take each day.
There have also been many anecdotal reports of near HIV eradication in humans. In July, two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer stopped their anti-retroviral therapy and showed no detectable signs of the HIV virus. And in March, doctors from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the University of Mississippi announced a case in which a Mississippi baby born with HIV was seemingly “cured” of the disease, after a pediatric specialist started the baby on a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth.