Adam Nadel/AP
Blood vials to be examined for the AIDS
virus are seen at Brooklyn's Interfaith
Medical Center. (AP)

AIDS Patient May Offer Clues to Possible Vaccine

August 13, 2008 02:39 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Researchers are studying a woman who has had the AIDS virus for a decade, but shows no symptoms of being infected.

“Elite Suppressor”

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say they are just starting to understand the immune system of a woman who has had the AIDS virus for at least 10 years, yet shows no signs of infection.

The patient is an “elite suppressor” of the virus. Her CD8 T-cells, which are immune cells, prevented HIV from replicating by as much as 90 percent. While her husband has the same strain of HIV virus, his T-cells stopped replication by just 30 percent.

“Elite suppression offers clues to vaccine researchers on many fronts: how CD8 killer T-cells can attack HIV and how a stronger immune response can force HIV into a permanent defensive state,” said Dr. Joel Blankson. “That’s a good sign in terms of developing a therapeutic vaccine,” which wouldn’t prevent infection but could be used for treatment.

Researchers in Texas also believe they may also have some clues for destroying HIV. The virus can be suppressed with drug cocktails, but it can eventually mutate and “outsmart” the medication, according to KVUE News.

The Texas scientists, however, say they’ve found a protein in the virus that doesn’t mutate. After applying an abzyme to HIV in laboratory and animal testing, they essentially disabled the virus.

Clinical trials involving people are now necessary to see if their work continues to hold up.

“This is the holy grail of HIV research, to develop a preventative vaccine,” Dr. Sudhir Paul of the University of Texas Medical School stated.
At least 33 million people worldwide have HIV. New estimates indicate that 56,000 people in the United States are infected annually.

Thoughts about an AIDS Vaccine

“Although clues suggest that a vaccine is possible, developing a vaccine against AIDS is arguably the greatest scientific challenge of our time,” according to Jeannette Kagame, the first lady of Rwanda, and Dr. Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Experimental AIDS vaccines have experienced several failures recently, and Dr. Berkley says researchers need to abandon many of them now under development. Eliminating unproductive projects will free up funds for better plans, he stated.

Berkley doesn’t want researchers to be discouraged by the “current funk” in which the AIDS vaccine effort finds itself. Scientists have dedicated about 25 years to the work so far, but developing a vaccine for whooping cough took 42 years. A polio vaccine was 47 years in the making, and a typhoid fever vaccine took 105 years, according to The Wall Street Journal Health Blog.

Related Topic: AIDS Research

Reference: HIV/AIDS Resources


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