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HIV Vaccine


Matt McDonald

on 2 September 2009

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Transcript of HIV Vaccine

Blind Alleys Is an Effective HIV Vaccine Feasible?
HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV primarily infects vital cells in the immune system including helper T cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells. HIV infection leads to low levels of vital T cells through viral killing of cells, increased rates of apoptosis in cells, and lastly through the killing of T cells by CD8 cytotoxic lymphocytes that recognize infected cells. When T cell numbers decline below a critical level, immunity is lost and the body becomes progressively more susceptible to infections.
Due to the complex biology of HIV infection, there is increasing concern that an effective HIV vaccine cannot be developed. To date, researchers have attempted to discover a vaccine using conventional methods but have been lead down a series of blind alleys. A vaccine could potentially prolong life in people who are diagnosed with HIV and cripple the transmission of HIV, ultimately leading to control of the infection. Blind alleys cost money. According to Science magazine, the U.S. National Institutes of Health have invested nearly $500 million each year, making this hunt the most expensive search for a vaccine in history. At the start, researchers tried vaccines which produced antibodies based on their reaction to surface proteins found on the HIV virus. This approach seemed logical because HIV uses the surface protein to attach itself to white blood cells and infect them. But vaccines that contained HIV's surface protein were unsuccessful in animal and test tube studies, proving worthless in large-scale clinical trials. Unfortunately, the HIV virus replicates and changes so quickly that the vaccine would have to be multi-faceted. HIV avoids immune attack by altering surface proteins with sugar, hiding itself from antibodies and throwing off misleading proteins that confuse enemy cells. HIV is tricking the immune system. In my opinion, science will succeed. Monkey experiments have shown that vaccines can protect animals from SIV, an animal relative of HIV known as simian immunodeficiency virus. Also, studies have identified people who have been exposed several times to HIV but are not infected, suggesting that something is stopping the virus. A small percentage of people who do become infected never seem to suffer any harm, and others hold the virus at bay for a decade or more before showing damage to their immune systems. Scientists also have found that some rare antibodies do work powerfully against the virus in test tube experiments. Potential new lines of research include working to improve cellular immunity which targets and eliminates HIV-infected cells. Several vaccines are now being tested aim to stimulate production of killer cells, the soldiers of the cellular immune system. But cellular immunity involves other players, such as macrophages, the network of chemical messengers called cytokines, and so-called natural killer cells. Wherever the answer lies, the knowledge gathered from HIV research could aid the development of vaccines against other diseases that, like HIV, kill millions of people and do not easily become fatally overwhelmed to immune attacks. Vaccine developers for these diseases will probably also have to look in unusual places for answers. Hopefully, the maps created by AIDS vaccine researchers currently exploring uncharted immunologic terrain do not prove invaluable in the future. Thank You Thank You - Matt McDonald
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