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Medical Moment: Preventing HIV

New developments in prevention may stop people from being infected with HIV.
Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT
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September 18th is National HIV / AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. This day brings attention to the growing number of people living long and full lives with HIV.

More than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and even though there is no cure, new advances in treatments make the disease no longer a death sentence. But now, new developments on the prevention side may stop people from being infected with HIV.

45-year-old Maricela Berumen uses painting as therapy.

“It’s my own way of escape from stressful times,” Berumen says.

One of those stressful times was 18 years ago, when she found out she and her husband tested positive for HIV.

“I was just thinking how quickly can I get up and go home and get my son tested,” says Berumen.

Her son tested negative, but the risk of infection is still high. That’s why researchers at Oregon Health and Science University have developed a vaccine candidate that may stop HIV in its tracks by using another virus: CMV.

Klaus Frueh, PhD Professor at Oregon Health & Science University says, “So, this virus, CMV, will persist and keep stimulating your immune response and what that does is creates sort of a lifelong shield.”

The vaccine was first tested on monkeys, on the monkey form of HIV called SIV.

“At least 50 to 60 percent of them will stop the infection and infection actually goes away over time,” says Louis Picker, MD, the Associate Director of Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science University.

Now, the vaccine is in a phase one clinical trial in humans.

Klaus Frueh, PhD says, “This is a completely new way of targeting it. That’s why we think this vaccine is so unique.”

If successful, the vaccine would be geared towards people at high-risk of contracting HIV, not those who currently have the disease. But Maricela sees this as a step closer to finding a cure for HIV.

“HIV doesn’t have me,” she says. “I have HIV. I’m not going to give up.”

Through medication, Maricela and her husband have been able to control the disease. The researchers say this vaccine platform can also be used on other diseases, such as hepatitis viruses, tuberculosis and even cancer.

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