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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
Simian HIV vaccine passes major test - Possible human application within two years, say researchers
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Simian HIV vaccine passes major test - Possible human application within two years, say researchers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A vaccine against simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) - the monkey equivalent of HIV - has passed a significant clinical test, and human applications may be only two years away.

In the study, the results of which were published September 12 by the scientific journal Nature, 16 test monkeys were injected with the vaccine and then exposed to SIV. Nine of them were able to clear their bodies of the virus.

Researchers from the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science University examined a strain of the virus called SIVmac239, which is up to 100 times deadlier than HIV. Monkeys infected with the strain usually die within two years.

The vaccine used a modified version of cytomegalovirus (CMV), which belongs to the herpes family, to prompt the monkeys' immune system to fight off SIV.

After being exposed to the virus, some monkey bodies began to respond by searching out and destroying signs of SIV. They remained clear of the virus up to three years after first being inoculated.

QUESTIONS REMAIN
The research team hopes to use a similar approach to test for a vaccine equivalent in humans.

'It's always tough to claim eradication - there could always be a cell which we didn't analyze that has the virus in it,' Dr. Louis Picker told reporters.

'But for the most part, with very stringent criteria ... there was no virus left in the body of these monkeys.'

Picker added that his team was still trying to determine why the vaccine was only successful in nine monkeys.

'It could be the fact that SIV is so pathogenic that this is the best you are ever going to get,' he explained. 'There is a battle going on, and half the time the vaccine wins and half the time it doesn't.'

SAFETY FIRST
Clinical human trials could start within two years if the vaccine is approved and the team receives permission from regulatory bodies, Picker added.

'In order to make a human version we have to make sure it is absolutely safe,' he said.

'We have now engineered a CMV virus which generates the same immune response but has been attenuated [modified to lose its virulence] to the point where we think it is unequivocally safe.'

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