In the sub-Saharan region of Africa mankind is plagued by the HIV virus. Governments, schools, and other essential parts of society cannot function because of the catastrophic implications of HIV (and AIDS). In turn, in these affected regions society as a whole cannot progress. Although there are effective methods to treat the symptoms of HIV and restore the majority the immune system’s vitality, the region aforementioned cannot afford these expensive treatments. Thus, until there is an effective vaccine to prevent the HIV virus, sub-Saharan Africa will not escape its state of destitution.
Millions of people die each year after HIV reaches Stage 4 and progresses into AIDs. With an increasing number of infected people the need for a cure is never more present. Countless attempts have been made to quell the virus, yet each has failed to find an answer. However, an experimental vaccine study revealed that there may be hope for HIV patients looming on the horizon. By no means is this experimental vaccine the solution to the “plague” upon humanity, but rather proof that through extensive research and experimentation there could be a preventive vaccine for HIV in the near future.
The research exhibited in Thailand regarding the experimental vaccine for the HIV-1 infection described Dr. Berkhout in the Retriovology journal proposes monumental results. For the RV144 Phase III clinical trial, the patients that received the experimental vaccination, as opposed to the placebo vaccination, demonstrated an increased resistance to the HIV-1 virus of 31%. Although the resulting percentage of protective efficacy was lower than the value for a vaccination to be considered “unequivocal clinical benefit,” the shear fact that the vaccination showed signs of improving defense against the HIV-1 virus is promising.
The vaccine discussed above is composed of two elements. The first component of the vaccine, ALVAC, is used in priming and consists of a synthetic version of three HIV-1 genes that encode proteins of the Envelope of the virus. ALVAC is a viral vector based vaccine whose purpose is to promote human immune cells to recognize and fight against the HIV-1 virus. In conjunction with ALVAC, AIDSVAX is used to fight the HIV-1 virus. AIDSVAX utilizes boosting antigens that are engineered to mimic the Envelope proteins in the virus, which allows the body to recognize the virus before one is infected. Thus, AIDSVAX stimulates the production of antibodies that are needed in fighting the HIV-1 virus. In the study, each participant was given four shots of ALVAC and two shots of AIDSVAX. Typically, vaccines that protect against virus infection also have an impact on the amount of the virus in the individuals that it did not protect from infection. However, the study discovered an anomaly in the vaccine by concluding that while the combination of the two vaccines had a moderate effect on viral protection, it simultaneously had no effect on the total virus load of an infected patient.
Although the study appears to reveal the possibility of a future without HIV and AIDS, there are still many questions and skepticism regarding the results of the experiment. The most compelling argument against the validity of the vaccine is the fact that it addresses the subtypes of the virus A and C, neither of which are predominate in the sub-Saharan region. The dominant subtypes of HIV-1 in this region are B and E. However, this argument does not carry much ardor because it is relatively easy to modify the vaccine to target the subtypes of HIV-1 in the sub-Saharan region. Another study must be conducted because the RV144 study only contained minimal cases of participants with the HIV-1 infection. Thus, the statistical data could be skewed by a relatively minute amount of people who put themselves at risk by practicing “high-risk” activities.
The underlying message of the experiment reveals that there is extensive work still left to be done in order to achieve the ultimate goal of finding an effective HIV-1 vaccine. The most important work left to be done is identifying the mechanism or molecule that causes the correlation with the protection from the virus. If discovered, this mechanism or molecule can be manipulated in order to make a more effective and widespread HIV vaccination. The possibility of eradicating HIV to any extent is extremely important because of the social, economic, and political implications.
The article was written in a very concise and easy manner to understand. However, the doubt in the author’s voice was extremely evident in the constant assertion that these results not only need to be tested again, but also that the validity of the experiment needs to be increased. The provisional vaccine appears to be promising, yet there is much work left to be done. This experiment was initiated in 2003 and it lasted for six years, which indicates that the possible solution to HIV-1 will take many years. However, the findings appear to be so promising that I am confident that soon, the plight of HIV-1 will be eradicated.
Berkhout, Ben. "HIV vaccine: it may take two to tango, but no party time yet." Retrovirology 6. (2009): n. pag. Web. 21 Oct 2009.