The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) caused a worldwide scare in the 1980s when medical practitioners announced that there was a worldwide pandemic and there was this virus called HIV that could rapidly cause a disease known as Acute Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Very soon all sorts of stories began circulating about this disease that had yet to have a cure.
In the thirty plus years since the early days of the AIDS pandemic, many misconceptions have been cleared up, including made-up tales that HIV could be transmitted through cut fruit, used needles that were stuck in cinema seats and so on. It was a learning curve for many of the world’s population as the medical community scrambled to educate people about how the disease actually spreads, which is through the sharing of needles during drug abuse, unprotected sex and from mother to child.
In addition to preventive education, there have been major strides made in the treatment of AIDS, so much so that the modern combination of antiviral drugs is able to reduce to concentration of HIVs in the patient’s blood to an undetectable level, With such achievements in the field of HIV drugs, the next step would, of course, be to develop a vaccine.
Vaccination isn’t a form of treatment. Instead, it’s usually injected into healthy individuals to elicit a defense response against a disease so that they’ll be protected against it for life. In a recent study called APPROACH, a new vaccine against HIV was developed and its first trial on human patients was carried out.
Results of this APPROACH vaccine trial on human subjects was recently announced at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Paris on July 24th, 2017. In short, the trial was a great success and managed to produce the necessary defense in its subjects. The vaccine was previously tested on animal subjects and this is the first time it’s being tested on human subjects.
The unique feature of the APPROACH vaccine is that it can elicit immune responses against several HIV subtypes. HIVs mutate easily and form various subtypes and from one geographical location to another. Thus far, it’s been challenging to develop vaccines for HIV as the virus often changes its outer protein coats to suit a certain population.
This initial APPROACH trial was done on almost 400 healthy individuals from the United States, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Thailand. Test subjects either received the true vaccine or a blank injection (also called a placebo) and the results showed clearly that only those who received the vaccine have a heightened immune response.
The vaccine itself is a common cold virus that has been specially engineered to contain mosaic surface proteins from HIVs. The cold viruses aren’t dangerous at all, as they’ve been engineered to be unable to cause diseases in anyone. The booster shots also contain different parts of the viral protein coats of HIV, which are just enough to elicit an immune reaction but far from being able to cause any disease.
Subjects were given two vaccine shots and two boosters over a period of 48 weeks. During these 48 weeks blood tests were done to detect their immune responses and the study found that most of the subjects had already developed immunities towards HIV by their third injection.
These encouraging results will help researchers make a decision to move on to another stage of the vaccine trials. The next step is a trial that will take place in South Africa with more than 2600 female subjects who are all healthy and HIV-free. Vaccines have to undergo several testing stages before being certified fit for the human population, so if everything goes well, the world should have its first HIV vaccine very soon.
Gentle reminder: The information on this article is not meant to replace a qualified healthcare professional and should not be considered as professional advice. Please seek appropriate medical help when necessary.