HIV's Mutations to Avoid Immune Defenses Can Be Passed to Wider Population, Study Says
February 26, 2009
HIV can adapt rapidly to evade immune system responses, and these mutations can be passed on in the wider population, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature, Reuters reports. Although researchers have known that HIV constantly mutates within an individual person, the new study indicates that these mutations that help the virus attack immune cells are increasingly passed to large groups in the population. According to the researchers, the virus' ability to mutate rapidly likely will pose significant challenges for the development of an HIV vaccine (Kahn, Reuters, 2/25).
According to Goulder, the study indicates that "[e]ven in the short time that HIV has been in the human population, it is doing an effective job of evading our best efforts at natural immune control of the virus." He added, "This is high-speed evolution that we're seeing in the space of just a couple of decades." In addition, the virus' ability to mutate rapidly indicates that a successful HIV vaccine would have to account for both "escape mutations" and geographical differences in HIV and HLA variants (AFP/Google.com, 2/26). Keith Alcorn of the HIV information service NAM said the study's findings "indicate the enormous challenge involved in developing a vaccine against HIV." Jo Robinson of the not-for-profit group Terrence Higgins Trust added that the research "suggests that if we're able to create a vaccine that works against HIV, the virus will always be one step ahead." According to Goulder, the study suggests that "once we have found an effective vaccine, it would need to be changed on a frequent basis to catch up with the evolving virus, much like we do today with the flu vaccine" (BBC News, 2/26).
An abstract of the study is available online.
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.