Friday, October 01, 2010

New Steps in HIV Vaccine

In May 2010, Seth Berkley addressed the TED audience about new steps towards a vaccine for HIV, the disease that leads to the development of AIDS. HIV is the most complicated virus that scientists have ever seen. The disease constantly mutates within the human host, sends out decoys when the body first detects a foreign invader, attacks the very cells the immune system uses for defense (T-cells), and genetically modifies the cell it inhabits so that the body begins to produce HIV on its own. It is the constant mutation that makes a vaccine so hard to find. For the flu, each season scientists choose three strains that they expect to be the strongest and make a vaccine. Each person infected with HIV in effect has their own strain.

Tests in April 2010 in Thailand have shown the vaccine works in humans, albeit modestly. Scientists have done this by isolating a part of the HIV cell that does not mutate very much from human to human. Separately, they have also found the antibody that the body produces to fight HIV. They are working to make this antibody stronger, and reshape it to fit to the part of the cell that doesn't mutate. The idea is, once this UNIVERSAL vaccine is given, the body will produce its own strain of these antibodies to fight HIV if it were to become present.

That was a really complicated paragraph, and the TED talk is a bit heady as well, but take a second to read it closely. This means that scientists have discovered the one part of the HIV cell that can be susceptible to a vaccine. They have also found the one antibody that can fight it. This is amazing!

Furthermore, they have found a much cheaper way to produce the vaccines so that they can be globally available faster. Additionally, the same science can be used to find a vaccine for all versions of the flu.


-Erica Stetz