Science is close to an HIV vac­cine at last

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - DR MIRIAM STOPPARD -

Think­ing back, I re­mem­ber the hys­te­ria over AIDS which gripped the coun­try in the 80s. I even made a TV pro­gramme aimed at calm­ing the alarm.

Such was the fear sur­round­ing HIV, I was un­able to make the pro­gramme with an AIDS suf­ferer (a woman who had con­tracted the con­di­tion through a con­tam­i­nated blood trans­fu­sion) in a TV stu­dio. In­stead, I was forced to take the crew to a work­ing men’s club in Brad­ford.

Back then, treat­ing the in­fec­tion was dif­fi­cult enough, so the idea of a vac­cine against HIV was a pipe dream.

But science marches on. We’re on the brink of hav­ing that longed-for vac­cine. And it’s be­ing called the “sil­ver bul­let”.

The big hur­dle has been iden­ti­fy­ing spe­cific killer im­mune cells that stay in the body long enough to stop the AIDS virus spread­ing.

In­ter­na­tional re­searchers, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion, be­lieve they have solved the prob­lem. They have “un­blocked” a process in the HIV virus it­self which was pre­vent­ing our an­ti­body-gen­er­at­ing B-cells in the im­mune sys­tem from mak­ing an­ti­bod­ies to kill the virus. Who knew the AIDS virus was so clever?

Lead sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Heeney, from Cam­bridge Univer­sity, said: “For a vac­cine to work, its ef­fects need to be long-last­ing. It isn’t practical to re­quire peo­ple to come back ev­ery six to 12 months to be vac­ci­nated.

“We wanted to de­velop a vac­cine to over­come this block and gen­er­ate these long-lived an­ti­body-pro­duc­ing cells. We have now found a way to do this.

“What we have found is a way to greatly im­prove B-cell re­sponses to an HIV vac­cine. We hope our dis­cov­ery will un­lock the paral­y­sis in the field of HIV vac­cine re­search and en­able us to move for­ward.”

The re­searchers com­pared their achieve­ment, re­ported in the Jour­nal of Virol­ogy, to “pre­vent­ing a key get­ting stuck in a lock”.

So far re­sults in lab ex­per­i­ments have been good.

The new Cam­bridge ap­proach pro­duced the de­sired im­mune sys­tem re­sponses and they lasted more than a year.

In fu­ture, it should be pos­si­ble to man­u­fac­ture vac­cines which stim­u­late long-last­ing B-cell re­sponses against HIV, the sci­en­tists be­lieve.

Prof Heeney added: “B-cells need time to make highly ef­fec­tive neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies, but in pre­vi­ous stud­ies, B-cell re­sponses were so short-lived, they dis­ap­peared be­fore they had the time to make all the changes nec­es­sary to cre­ate the ‘sil­ver bul­lets’ to stop HIV.”

All those years ago I wouldn’t have be­lieved it pos­si­ble.

Re­sults in lab ex­per­i­ments have been good

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