The grant will support efforts by Louis Picker and colleagues at the institute to improve the delivery method of a vaccine candidate that was effective in protecting animals exposed to SIV (the monkey equivalent of HIV), as well as work to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine. In previous studies, the candidate vaccine’s effectiveness was more than 50 percent. According to the World Health Organization, more than thirty-four million people worldwide have contracted HIV, and more than one-third of the babies born in low- and middle-income countries are infected with the virus.
The new vaccine candidate uses a cytomegalovirus (CMV) engineered to express SIV or HIV proteins as the transport system, or vector, used to raise immune responses against AIDS-causing viruses. CMV is a persistent virus that most people are already infected with, causes few or no symptoms, and elicits very strong cellular responses that are maintained for life. These immune responses are characterized by a type of T cell that has a potent anti-viral function and is attracted to the same tissues targeted by AIDS-causing viruses. Picker and his team hypothesize that CMV vector-generated anti-HIV responses would be constantly on the alert for HIV and thus would be able able to intercept and stop HIV infection immediately after exposure.
“One promising aspect of studying SIV is that it is a more potent virus than its human counterpart,” Picker explained. “Therefore, we expect that a human form of this vaccine candidate — while still some years away — would have a higher effectiveness rate than other current candidates. However, before a human vaccine is tested, there is much more work to be done in regards to safety and other areas.”
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