In Spain, New Hope for AIDS Vaccine
Spanish researchers may be on the trail of the long-sought vaccine for HIV.
Researchers in Barcelona used patients’ own cells to create a treatment that reduced the viral load in people living with HIV, reported AFP on Feb. 1. Though they said that the reduction in detectable levels of the virus was "significant," researchers cautioned that at this stage the new treatment had not succeeded in dropping patients’ viral loads to the point of not being detectable, as current HIV medication regimens do for many.
The clinical trial took place at Hospital Clinic in Barelona and involved two dozen AIDS patients. "This decrease was very significant is some of them but in no case did the virus become undetectable," a release from the hospital said. "However this is a very important improvement with respect to previous initiatives where with a similar vaccine there was a modest response in 30 percent of the treated patients. No therapeutic vaccine has achieved up to now the same level of response as in this study."
AFP reported that the treatment adopted a different approach, in which cells from each patient’s own immune system were used to create tailor-made doses of the vaccine.
The vaccine was personalized for each patient as it was made from their own dendritic cells, a special type of cell that is a key regulator of the immune system. The goal is to create a new medicine that will replace the standard anti-retrovirals, which are costly and require daily doses, reported Deutsche Welle on Feb. 2. The hospital’s statement noted that, ""The principal objective of therapeutic vaccines is to minimize the need for antiretroviral drug treatment," but the new approach will next be tested in conjunction with standard anti-retroviral therapy to determine whether the combination would be more effective.
The study’s results appeared in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
The innovation of using patients’ own cells to fight the virus comes at roughly the same time as news of another new approach, the use of specially engineered RNAthat suppressed the ability of the virus to replicate itself. Suppression of viral replication is seen as one key component in the search for a vaccine or even a cure; selectively targeting and destroying infected cells, while leaving healthy cells alone, is another. Skeptics, however, argue that a true cure could be more difficult or even impossible, because of the way HIV can lurk, dormant, only to reactivate years later.
Eventually, researchers hope to create a vaccine that will help people living with HIV manage the disease more effectively and with less cost. Such a vaccine would also help protect individuals who have not been infected. In at least one case, an anti-retroviral medication, Truvada, has been shown to help protect HIV- people, but health experts warn that the drug should not be used carelessly. Overuse and misuse of medications helps drive viral adaptation, promoting the rise of drug-resistant strains. For that reason, health experts recently warned that Truvada should only be used by those who are at high risk of contracting HIV.