The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been hassling humanity for almost a century. However, we might just be able to see an end to its reign of tyranny in a few short years—that is if the researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University have anything to do with it.
A Different Point of Entry: CMV
Vaccines customarily contain a weakened version of the virus at large so that your body's immune system is prepared in the case of an actual infection. With HIV, scientists took a slightly different approach by taking the cytomegalovirus(CMV) and using it as a backbone to carry fragments of HIV.
This feat of genetic engineering utilized CMV as a medium for immunization because it's a type of herpes virus that infects over 50 to 70 percent of Americans without causing disease. A harmless but active virus would alert the body's immune system and thereby generate antibodies for prolonged immunity against HIV. For trials, researchers tested the experimental vaccine using RhCMV, a strain of the virus that infects rhesus macaques, which allowed them to verify if the vaccine was effective against the monkey form of the AIDS virus, simian immunodeficiency virus(SIV).
So...does it work?
The Oregon National Primate Research Center reported that up to 60% of tested rhesus macaques were immunized against infection with SIV; a ground-breaking level of success for a potential HIV or SIV vaccine.
As for next steps, the scientists involved from both UC Davis and Oregon Health Sciences are now working on a human CMV-based HIV vaccine for clinical trials. They hope to enroll their first volunteers in Phase 1 human trial in the summer of 2017.
While we are many, many years away from a conclusive vaccine for HIV, it is inspiring to see potential solutions emerge from a multi-disciplinary approach involving infectious diseases and genetic engineering—a quiet reminder of how we are moving toward the future.
A short video on the science of HIV/AIDS: