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  • georgewins43 georgewins43 Jun 20, 2008 11:06 AM Flag

    The science of hope. Robinson vaccine aims to manage HIV without drugs

    By MATT SCHAFER
    JUN. 20, 2008


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    MATT SCHAFER

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    With cautious optimism based on preliminary testing, Dr. Harriet Robinson and her associates believe her HIV vaccine will immunize uninfected people against the virus that causes AIDS, and also reduce or eliminate HIV viral loads in those already infected.

    “It’s been tested in a very limited number of primates and it has been remarkably successful,” Robinson said. “We have not only gotten a 1,000-fold reduction level in virus counts when we’ve vaccinated when we’ve taken them off of drugs, but we’ve also had long term reductions.”

    HIV is a retrovirus that replicates itself, and maintains a unique level in each infected person. The virus corrupts parts of the body’s immune system, like the Helper T-Cells that normally attack viruses, and uses those parts to replicate itself.

    The Robinson vaccine uses a non-virulent form of poxvirus to introduce a DNA primer with parts of HIV into the body’s immune system.

    “The pox doesn’t generate enough response by itself and the prime doesn’t generate enough a response by itself, but together they combine to raise the immunity response,” said Dr. Rama Amara.

    The vaccine gives the T-Cells the ability to recognize and destroy HIV cells while priming antibodies to prevent the disease from spreading to healthy body parts. It also stimulates productions of cells that help the immune system fight the infection.

    “It raises both T-Cells and anti-bodies and so there are two arms of the immune system that are able to fight the infection,” Robinson said.

    While a vaccine tested by Merck failed earlier this year, the two vaccines are nothing alike, and Amara produced research showing the Robinson vaccine offered stronger results quicker than the Merck vaccine.

    When Robinson’s HIV vaccine first went to human trials, it was one of 65 potential HIV vaccines tested by the same company; only three will undergo Phase Two trials.

    “Phase One is where most of vaccines get cut, so we’re very confident that our vaccine will move forward,” Robinson said.

    After a vaccine has progressed through non-human testing, the FDA requires three stages of human testing, each one lasting at least a year. Phase One uses a small group of people who are not considered at-risk. Phase Two uses a larger group of people, who also are not at risk. In Phase Three the test group expands again and now includes those considered at risk.

    Currently the vaccine is going through clinical trial systems to stop people from developing the infection, but could have broader applications.

    “The vaccine has been developed as a preventative vaccine so if [a person] were exposed they would not develop AIDS, but we have been working on a reparative function … with the goal of the vaccine control,” Robinson said.

    So far the reparative elements of the vaccine has only been tested in a statistically insignificant number of primates. Without large scale test results, which are likely a year or more off, researchers are unable to say with any kind of certainty that the vaccine has that level of healing ability. Still, Amara and Robinson are encouraged by the early results.

    “After the primates have been vaccinated and medication has been ceased, the virus does not return to its previous levels,” Amara said, explaining a graph of test results. The viral loads had been halved in one primate and were undetectable in another.

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