Researchers have discovered a method that may be able to eradicate HIV from the body.
The findings are the result of the development of an experimental HIV vaccine, administered by the Oregon Health and Science University on a population of monkeys infected with SIV, a related virus found in primates. Researchers discovered that 50% of their subjects no longer tested positive for SIV after the vaccine was applied.
The findings were published Wednesday in the weekly science journal Nature. According to Louis Picker, a researcher at OHSU, they could mean a potential breakthrough in the search for a cure in humans as well.
"To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly publicized but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with antiviral medicines very early after the onset of infection or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer," Picker said in a statement. "This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body."
In developing the vaccine, researchers modified cytomegalovirus, a member of the herpesvirus family, in order to reprogram the body’s immune system to find and destroy SIV. In more than half of cases, the virus was "banished from the host," said Picker.
“Through this method we were able to teach the monkey's body to better 'prepare its defenses' to combat the disease," Picker continued. “Our vaccine mobilized a T-cell response that was able to overtake the SIV invaders in 50% of the cases treated. Moreover, in those cases with a positive response, our testing suggests SIV was banished from the host. We are hopeful that pairing our modified CMV vector with HIV will lead to a similar result in humans.”
Although the results of the simian tests were promising, Picker said it is still too soon to celebrate. Trials would still have to be run on human subjects before it would be possible to develop a vaccine for HIV.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the study took place at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, in collaboration with the Oregon National Primate Research Center.
Watch Picker talk about the vaccine below.