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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 36
Help with trials - Study of potential HIV vaccine needs more volunteers
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Help with trials - Study of potential HIV vaccine needs more volunteers

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

Last summer, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) 505 study, a nationwide trial of potential HIV vaccines, expanded the scope of its investigation from 1,350 participants to 2,200 nationwide. Researchers in Seattle are still looking for volunteers.

'By increasing the size of this 505 study, scientists will be able to answer the question of whether this vaccine regimen can reduce the number of new HIV infections - in addition to the original questions about whether the vaccine regimen can lower viral load among those who do become infected and confirm that the vaccine is safe in all populations being enrolled,' said Ro Yoon, community educator coordinator for the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

HVTN 505 seeks to answer three questions:

(1) Can the vaccine regimen protect against HIV infection?

(2) Can the vaccine regimen lower viral load among people who do become infected?

(3) Is the vaccine regimen safe and well tolerated?

HVTN 505 is a national multi-city trial, where the effectiveness of a vaccine developed by the federal government that aims to lower the viral load for people who become infected with HIV is being tested.

While vaccines are just one of numerous pursuits in the anti-AIDS toolkit, currently there is more time, energy, and money being put into vaccines than ever before.

So why are vaccines the way to go in ending the global HIV/AIDS pandemic?

'An HIV vaccine would have a number of key advantages over today's HIV prevention options,' Yoon explained. 'In particular, the protection offered by a vaccine during sex would not depend on the consent of both partners [unlike condom use], and would not require behavioral change [unlike abstinence],' said Yoon. 'An HIV vaccine would also be invaluable for couples wishing to conceive a child while minimizing the risk of HIV transmission.'

The goal of most vaccines is to lower the viral load of anyone who contracts HIV. With a lower viral load, it takes longer for the HIV+ person to develop symptoms, thus slowing the disease progression of AIDS. A lower viral load also means less risk of transmitting the virus to others.

NO INFECTION RISK
For those interested in volunteering for the study, there are some things to be aware of. First and foremost, there is no risk of contracting HIV from the test vaccine, as it does not contain any live HIV. Side effects are very infrequent, with the most common being flu-life symptoms.

This study is for HIV-negative men who have sex with men. and Transgender women who have sex with men.

Should you choose to participate, you will be making a time commitment of 18 to 36 months. During this period you will not be allowed to test for HIV anywhere except through the study, as a conventional HIV test can interfere with the results. (You may test as often as you wish using the study facilities, at no cost.)

While the commitment may last a few years, it isn't necessarily time-consuming. Participants can expect to make about 16 visits total - less than one per month on average. The visits can be anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours, and volunteers will be compensated for their time.

It is a double-blind study, so there are placebo groups - you may or may not receive actual test vaccine.

The study isn't trying to license any specific vaccine. Rather, its purpose is to help immunologists and others in the biomedical field to better understand the human response to vaccines in general. The data from this study is intended to help lead to the synthesis of a working HIV vaccine.

The most powerful information about vaccines comes from clinical trials like this one, many of which rely on volunteers. Seattle was chosen as a site for the HVTN 505 study largely because the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit, affiliated with the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is located here. Both organizations have a long and admirable history in the field of HIV/AIDS research. The trials unit was founded in 1987 with a goal of finding a vaccine that would completely prevent HIV infection.

The HIV Vaccine Trials Unit is located on First Hill, at 901 Boren Ave. (at Madison St.) and is open by appointment only. Visit www.hopetakesaction.org for more information.

'We now have an unprecedented opportunity, based on solid scientific data, to control and ultimately end the AIDS pandemic,' said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an internationally renowned immunologist in the filed of HIV/AIDS research, last year regarding the study.

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