Prevention is better than cure, certainly where HIV and AIDS are concerned. After all, once the HIV virus enters the body, it will remain there forever. Not even the constantly improving medication for curbing the virus can prevent this. What effective medication can do is prevent AIDS from developing and ensure that the patient is no longer able to pass on the virus. However, successful treatment requires intensive medical care.
In the Netherlands, such care is very well organised, which has led to the number of new infections decreasing. In 2017, the HIV virus was contracted by 750 individuals in the Netherlands, down from 820 in 2016. Unfortunately, such good care is not always in place elsewhere in the world. Every day, there are 5,000 (!) new cases across the globe. This HIV epidemic can only be halted by a preventive vaccine.
A 'smart' virus
A preventive HIV vaccine would teach the immune system to recognise the virus as a dangerous pathogen and then to eradicate it as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately, developing such a vaccine is hardly straightforward. In the past 35 years, a great deal of research has been conducted into HIV and HIV vaccines. This has led to the knowledge that it is a very 'smart' virus. On the one hand, this is because the virus hides itself in precisely those immune system cells which should be recognising and attacking the virus. On the other hand, the virus is constantly developing new strains, making it unrecognisable to the immune system each time.
Rendering HIV strains harmless
Scientists based in Amsterdam think they have found a way to 'train' the immune system, so that the different strains of the virus are no longer an issue. The unique combination of the ConM trimer vaccine's shape and composition causes a strong immune response in rabbits. The vaccine is capable of eliciting antibodies which are capable of rendering various HIV strains harmless.
In collaboration with BPRC, scientists have now investigated whether rhesus macaques are able to produce the same antibodies after being vaccinated. According to this proof of concept study, this is indeed the case. Follow-up research will have to be carried out to determine whether the vaccine will protect against HIV infection in practice.
To learn more, read the entire article in Nature Communications.