New compound gives hope to HIV vaccine

A new compound offers the first real hope in the quest for an HIV vaccine. According to researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, the…

A new protein compound could be key to an AIDS vaccine. Human trials might be next. (Shutterstock)

A new compound offers the first real hope in the quest for an HIV vaccine. According to researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, the discovery has effectively prevented laboratory monkeys from being infected with HIV for an entire year of testing — this could mean human trials are next.

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HIV, the virus that causes AIDS,  first made its appearance in 1983, and since that time, the research community has been trying to find a cure and an effective means of prevention. At the moment, antiretroviral medications combined with condom usage is the most effective way to prevent the spread of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), aside from abstinence. The introduction of a vaccine would be a monumental breakthrough for at-risk populations.

The new compound is a protein molecule generated by muscle cells in the body that have been injected with a modified form of HIV DNA. This modified DNA is such a short strand it no longer acts like a virus in any way, and researchers say it shouldn’t even be compared to one. The DNA causes the muscles to generate a unique, curved protein that binds simultaneously to the same receptor sites HIV targets in the human body.

Once the new compound is bound to a cell, HIV is unable to interact with that cell. The most promising part is the new protein binds to both the CD4 and CCR5 receptor sites, the early- and late-stage sites HIV specifically targets.

Evolutions says humans came from monkeys

Right now, research monkeys are testing the new protein compound that may one day be used in humans. (Shutterstock)

“It’s a twofer,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times. “It’s very impressive, and the method is quite promising. But it’s still just in an animal model, so we’ll need to see evidence of whether it works in humans.”

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Should the research progress to human trials, participants would not be injected with the modified DNA; they would instead be given the novel protein, harvested from the lab. If this form of administration looks promising, the modified DNA would then be tested on HIV patient volunteers who aren’t willing to, or can’t take antiretroviral medications. If both those groups see benefits from the compound, the next step would be to test its preventative capabilities among high-risk populations.

Because the new compound works as well or better than the most common methods researchers have looked into for an AIDS vaccine, developers feel they could see human test trials in as early as three years.