Emory University researchers made international headlines after they announced the phenomenal results of a vaccine that stopped AIDS-like infection in monkeys in its track.
Researchers first administered the vaccine to 24 monkeys, who received an initial vaccination as well as a booster shot. Seven months later they infected all 24 monkeys, as well as 4 monkeys in a control group, with a modified HIV/SIV virus.
Within 7 months all of the control monkeys had developed AIDS-like symptoms and had to be euthanized. Of the monkeys who received vaccinations, however, 23 of 24 test subjects had virus levels so low they were undetectable. The other monkey had very low levels of the virus.
The vaccine contains DNA fragments for three proteins similar to those found in the AIDS virus. When the immune system of the monkeys encountered the vaccine, it quickly developed a sophisticated immune response that persisted over time so that when they were finally exposed to the HIV/SIV virus, their immune system kept the virus in check and the monkeys remained healthy.
Peggy Johnson of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy said, “These are among the very best outcomes we have seen in an animal model.” However, she added, nobody knows if this approach will work in human beings.
“It’s encouraging,” Dr. Bernard Moss, Chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “but we don’t know whether we can translate this information directly from monkey models to protection [in people].”
Resolving that question will take several years of research and many more studies. Still, this is an amazing step forward that could light the path for development of an AIDS vaccine, which would be the most effective way to stop the global HIV epidemic.
Monkey study shows promise for AIDS vaccine. Reuters, March 8, 2001.
AIDS vaccine experiments promising. The Associated Press, March 8, 2001.
AIDS vaccine shows promise. The BBC, March 8, 2001.