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Hope Takes Action to fight HIV with new vaccine
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Hope Takes Action to fight HIV with new vaccine

by James Whitely - SGN Contributing Writer

If you've been riding the bus recently or even just walking around Capitol Hill, then Hope Takes Action (HTA) should sound somewhat familiar to you. The ads and flyers with the jock-esque poster boy have been posted around the city for a couple months now. So, what is it?

"Hope Takes Action is a large multi-site trial, where we are looking at the effectiveness of a vaccine by the federal government that aims to lower the viral load for people that become infected with HIV," explained David Garcia, community educator for the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here in Seattle.

The goal of HTA, also known as the HIV Vaccine Trials Network 505 study, which started this year, is to enroll Gay men into the trial in various sites throughout the United States. In all, approximately 1,350 Gay men will be involved.

"We are hoping to enroll 100 Gay men [in Seattle], but we have studies for other categories as well that we are seeking volunteers for," said Garcia. "We're really trying to get the information out to the community so they can make a decision whether the vaccine trial research is good for them or not."

The staff of the HTA project have essentially been using a centralized media campaign to appeal to the altruistic nature of Gay men to take action and enroll in the study, Garcia told SGN.

Enrolling in the HTA isn't a large commitment by any means. Participants would have approximately 16 visits during a two- to three-year commitment. The visits can be anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.

"It's a double blind study, so people can be put into a placebo group," Garcia told SGN. There is no risk of contracting HIV from the vaccine as the vaccines do not contain any live HIV. The most common side effects are flulike symptoms, but side effects are still very infrequent.

The goal of the vaccine is to lower the viral load for anyone that contracts HIV while in the program. Typically, if you can lower the viral load, it takes longer for people to develop symptoms, meaning it would essentially slow the disease progression of AIDS. A lower viral load may also mean a reduction in chances of transmission of the virus to others.

"This trial is important because it will give us better answers about a T-cell based vaccine. This product is aimed to elicit CD4 and CD8 T-cells in those individuals who become infected with HIV due to their own behavior. The stimulation of these T-cells is important because these people could live healthier lives by suppressing the virus, possibly not going on treatment until later and not progressing to AIDS so quickly," Garcia told SGN.

If the 505 vaccine works, researchers will know they are on the right track with vaccines which stimulate cellular (T-cell) immunity.

Seattle was chosen as a site for HTA largely because the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit, which is affiliated with the University of Washington as well as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has a long legacy of doing HIV vaccine work. The center was founded with a goal of finding a vaccine that would completely prevent HIV infection.

"It is important in HIV prevention that we have as many tools as possible to fight HIV. If this vaccine works, it will add to our toolbox to help us better combat HIV," said Garcia.

The HIV Vaccine Trials Unit is located in First Hill, at the corner of Boren and Madison (901 Boren Avenue). They offer compensation for the trial, shorter visits being $25 and longer visits being $50.

Check out www.hopetakesaction.org for more information.

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