HIV vaccine closer to reality

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Plenty of people battle the common cold each year but Australian scientists believe it could lead to a defence against a much deadlier virus, HIV.

Researchers in Adelaide have shown for the first time that using a common cold virus, or rhinovirus, combined with a DNA-based vaccine protects the body against HIV at the site of infection.

This is an important step in attempts to introduce a first line of defence against HIV infection, says Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk, of the University of Adelaide and Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“With sexual activity being one of the primary methods of HIV transmission, it’s necessary to try to protect those parts of the body that are most likely to encounter the virus first,” Dr Grubor-Bauk said.

“A possible reason why previous HIV vaccine trials have not been successful is because of this lack of frontline protection.”

As part of the study, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, scientists put a rhinovirus altered to include HIV proteins inside the nose of mice to boost white blood cells to fight the HIV infection.

At the same time the mice were injected with the vaccine containing specific antibodies that recognised and shut down HIV-positive cells.

This combined approach resulted in very specific responses by the immune system, Dr Grubor-Bauk said.

The head of virology at the Basil Hetzel Institute, Professor Eric Gowans, says the vaccine works to prevent HIV replicating itself by targeting an element of the virus known as Tat.

“We found that infection was considerably reduced in the mice we studied,” Prof Gowans said.

He says their findings support the need for further testing of this targeted approach to an HIV vaccine.

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