Infection Protection: HIV Vaccines

They protect us and our families from the flu, mumps, measles, and many other diseases, but figuring out a vaccine to protect against HIV is still a mystery.

Every year, 50,000 Americans are infected and close to 20,000 die from the virus. But now, there's hope on the horizon.

"Use a condom, every time," says HIV Vaccine Trial Participant Benjamin Perkins.

HIV Prevention Expert Benjamin Perkins stresses safe sex. As a gay man, staying disease free is important to him, too. He even volunteered for an HIV vaccine trial.

"I feel like ultimately the gold standard is a vaccine,” says Perkins.

Fenway Health's Doctor Kenneth Mayer is testing a new vaccine in humans. It uses a modified cold virus to deliver genetic material into the body that resembles HIV, but really isn't. Thinking it's the real virus, the immune system attacks.

"Laboratory studies so far suggest that this combination gives very strong immune responses," explains Medical Research Director at Fenway Health Dr. Kenneth Mayer.

Monkeys are helping scientists test a unique vaccine that could create an HIV blocking barrier in your skin.

"You would have a layer of a layer of antibody against that, and it would protect the entry of the virus," says Marie-Claire Gauduin the Assistant Scientist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

Texas Biomedical’s Marie-Claire Gauduin co-developed the stem-cell based vaccine. The green you see here is the vaccine becoming a part of the immune system.

"This is a part of you now, because your stem cells are doing it for you," explains Gauduin.

As for Benjamin, he's still HIV free. The vaccine he was given did not turn out to be the solution to preventing the spread of the virus, but he's hopeful new vaccines will be.

"Maybe someday we'll get a home run," Perkins says.

Testing of the stem-cell based vaccine in monkeys just started in January. Researchers tell us they should know if it protects the animals against the virus by 2015. If it's approved for human testing, those trials could take up to six years.

Meanwhile, recruiting for Doctor Mayer's vaccine is going on right now at sites across the country.

Go to for more information on how to enroll.


TOPIC: Infection Protection: HIV Vaccines
REPORT: MB # 3579

BACKGROUND: HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Two types of HIV exist, HIV-1 and HIV-2. Usually, HIV will refer to HIV-1. However, both will damage a patient's body by destroying certain blood cells, called CD4+T cells. These cells are vital for helping the body fight off diseases. People can develop flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of being infected with HIV; others will not have any symptoms at all. People living with HIV can appear healthy for several years, but the disease is still affecting their bodies. All people with HIV should be taking medications to treat the infection. They can limit the destruction of the immune system, improve their health, and can reduce their ability to transmit HIV. During the early stages of HIV, it can become dangerous if untreated because it could lead to cardiovascular disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. Currently, people can live a lot longer with HIV before they developed AIDS because of the many different combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid-1990s. (Source:

HIV ORIGIN: Scientists believe that HIV originated in a chimpanzee in West Africa. The chimpanzee version of the infection is called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). SIV was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when they hunted them for meat and were in contact with the chimpanzee's infected blood. The virus has existed in the United States since the middle to late 1970s. From 1979-1981, there were reports of cancer, pneumonia, and other illnesses in New York and Los Angeles among men who had sexual relations with other men. By 1982, public health officials were beginning to officially label the occurrences as AIDS; therefore, official tracking of AIDS began that year. In 1983, researchers discovered what was causing AIDS. At first they named the virus HTLV-III/LAV. They later changed it to HIV. (Source:

TREATMENT: The recommended treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy (ART). It involves taking a combination of three or more anti-HIV medications daily. This therapy is designed to prevent HIV from multiplying and destroying infection-fighting CD4 cells. Treatment with anti-HIV medications prevents the virus from multiplying and destroying the immune system, which prevents HIV from advancing to AIDS. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Within the science community, health care professionals have been working on an HIV vaccine. In fact, a new vaccine is now being testing in humans. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is an international effort to search for an effective and safe HIV vaccine. The organization's HIV Vaccine Trial Units are located at leading research institutions in 27 cities on four continents. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, is examining whether a two-part vaccine regimen can decrease viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) in study participants who later become infected with HIV. The study's strategy is: a series of three immunizations with recombinant DNA-based vaccine (the primer vaccine) over the course of eight weeks followed by a single immunization with a recombinant vaccine (the boosting vaccine) based on a weakened adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) that carries the vaccine contents and helps stimulate the immune system. Ad5 is a common virus that causes colds, but it is disabled and can't cause a cold or other illnesses. It encodes for HIV proteins that are found inside the virus and on its outer envelope. The study is designed to enroll 1,350 HIV-negative men who are between 18 and 45 years old who have sexual relations with other men. (Source: Another possible vaccine comes from Texas Biomedical Research Institute. It is a single-dose vaccine that creates a coating, preventing the virus from finding entry to our bodies through any pore. The vaccine comes from a virus resistant layer of the skin that is constantly growing from our own stem cells. It is designed to last a lifetime. This vaccine is directed at mucosal layers of the epithelium in the genital and rectal areas where the virus enters the body. The vaccine has already been tested in the lab in mice and was successful. Now they are being tested in monkeys. (Source:


Chris Viveiros
Associate Director of Communications
The Fenway Institute
(617) 927-6342

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