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searching for vaccine will it help people already?
      #202936 - 08/09/06 07:53 AM


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posted July 31, 2006 02:16 PM

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Searching for an HIV vaccine

apharmon
MEDILL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-five years have passed. Millions have died. But for pioneering HIV researcher Dr. Robert C. Gallo, hope remains.
As a co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus, the agent that causes AIDS, Gallo believes that creating an effective vaccine is still the most promising way to stop a virus that has killed 25 million people and infected millions more since 1981.

"I may be in the minority, but I think a vaccine will come within my lifetime. If it doesn't, then I've made a gigantic mistake in how I've spent my time," said the 69-year-old Gallo, the director of the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore.

Funding for an HIV vaccine received a major boost last week when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will provide 16 grants totaling $287 million over five years to a multinational team of researchers. The money will encourage novel vaccine research and establishes an international network for scientists to better share their findings, according to a Gates Foundation spokesman.

This year's portion of the Gates grants will account for about 10 percent of worldwide vaccine research funding in 2006, according to AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition estimates. The U.S. government, which is by far the largest funder of HIV research, spent $574 million last year on vaccine development and testing.

"The [Gates Foundation] grants provide us the opportunity to bring in a community of scientists with diverse expertise, all to work on this one topic. That's not easily done in this industry," said Dr. Juliana McElrath, a grant recipient from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

But finding a vaccine that outsmarts HIV has long eluded and frustrated researchers. Some experts say the billions of dollars spent over the last decade on vaccine studies have yielded little progress.

"I think the vaccine can be overemphasized," said Dr. Johnny J. He, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Indiana University who studies the effect of HIV on the central nervous system. "If instead you can suppress the virus, if you can maintain it at a level that will not cause destruction to the immune system, then you treat it like any other chronic disease out there. I think that is a more practical approach."

Of the 16 grants provided by the Gates Foundation, five will create central facilities for scientists to share vaccine specimens and data from trial studies. The remaining grants will fund two different types of HIV vaccine research that experts say may need to be used in combination to prevent infection.

One type of research involves the study and design of antibodies that bind to vulnerable regions of HIV and neutralize the virus, like a key fitting into a lock. Another focuses on ways to stimulate the immune system so that it destroys infected cells.

Whether this two-pronged attack will reduce the deadliness of the virus is unknown.

HIV has proven to be a much more sophisticated creature than scientists previously thought. Multiple strains of the virus mutate constantly, thwarting the body's immune system. Unlike viruses like polio, which targets cells of the nervous system, HIV attacks T-cells, macrophages and other types of white blood cells, the very defenses needed to resist infection.

"Initially, the immunity response to HIV in the body is effective. But then the virus changes itself constantly, making it difficult for the body to fight the infection," said Dr. Roman Dziarski, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Indiana University-Northwest. "Eventually the immune system just runs out of steam."

Once HIV cripples the immune system, life-threatening infections caused by bacteria and other foreign invaders can wreak havoc throughout the body. Dziarski is part of a team of local researchers who recently discovered four bacteria-fighting proteins secreted by the body's mucous membranes that could be used to fight infections arising from AIDS.

During the early days of the epidemic, many researchers including Dr. Gallo thought that identifying the HIV virus would be their greatest challenge. At a 1984 press conference announcing that Gallo had discovered the virus that causes AIDS, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler said a vaccine would be available for testing within two years.

However, study after study has failed to produce the sufficient immune response needed to eradicate a virus so stealth that it can hide itself in the DNA of human cells.

"You want to see vaccine development go forward, but it can hurt this development if trials consistently fail," said Gallo. "People won't want to be funding vaccine research anymore." Gallo stressed that new vaccines need to be more carefully vetted before any advance to large-scale trials.

Given the enormous challenge of creating a vaccine that is effective across all HIV strains, some scientists question whether vaccine research diverts money from drug therapies that can dramatically reduce the amount of virus present in a person already infected with the virus. Combine these therapies with extensive worldwide prevention campaigns, and HIV infection rates will inevitably decrease, they say.

Critics of this approach—which include Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, one of the staunchest supporters for HIV vaccine research in Congress—say a treatment and prevention model alone is not a sustainable way to fight the virus.

"In a humanitarian sense, you need to use therapeutic treatment to prolong lives and give some hope to people, but clearly a vaccine is just of the essence if there's ever to be a massive wipeout of the virus," Lugar said.

Since its symptoms were first discovered in 1981 in five Los Angeles gay men with a rare and virulent form of pneumonia, HIV has spread to all inhabited continents and is the leading cause of death in many countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV infection rate is as high as 34 percent in some areas, an estimated 12 million children are orphans to one of the worst pandemics in human history.

It's a scenario that Gallo could never have predicted entirely.

"Did I know the epidemic was going to be global? Absolutely. We knew that by March of 1984," Gallo said. "But did I know that we would have the situation we have today in Africa? God, no."


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Anonymous
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Re: searching for vaccine will it help people already? new
      #202938 - 08/09/06 07:57 AM

What I mean if they find a vaccine will it help if you are alredy infected?

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ScotCharles
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Reged: 05/06/05
Posts: 924
Loc: Los Angeles
Re: searching for vaccine will it help people already? new
      #202952 - 08/09/06 09:18 AM

Anchiave espero - there is always hope

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Carpe diem.

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