Metro Weekly

HIV vaccine enters human trials

Pioneering HIV researcher Robert Gallo brings his vaccine to human trials

HIV virus, Credit: C. Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus
HIV virus, Credit: C. Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus

A vaccine aimed at protecting against HIV will soon enter the human trial stage.

It’s the result of fifteen years work by Dr. Robert Gallo, who in 1984 co-discovered the HIV virus as the root cause of the AIDS epidemic. Gallo later went on to develop blood tests that could detect the virus in patients, but his latest body of work could render those tests obsolete.

Three decades after his pioneering work, Gallo and a team of researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology have developed a vaccine that they believe could stop the HIV virus in its tracks.

Gallo’s vaccine works by inhibiting the virus from infiltrating the body’s T-cells, which are a key part of our immune systems. Other vaccines have tended to focus on treating specific strains of the virus, but Gallo’s method would be universal in approach — albeit for those strains of the virus classed as HIV-1.

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“Our HIV/AIDS vaccine candidate is designed to bind to the virus at the moment of infection, when many of the different strains of HIV found around the world can be neutralized,” Gallo said in a statement. “We believe this mechanism is a major prerequisite for an effective HIV preventive vaccine.”

Gallo told Science magazine that the trial would involve 60 people in its initial stage, with participants being monitored for immune system responses to the “full-length single chain” vaccine.

Asked why his vaccine took so long to bring to human trials, Gallo reveals a pragmatic reason — they wanted to be completely sure, through testing on monkeys and gaining funding, that the trial would be worth it.

“Was anything a lack of courage?” he said. “Sure. We wanted more and more answers before going into people.”

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