Thursday, July 19, 2007

Medicine: In search for an effective vaccine against HIV

While I'm searching for a place to spend my holidays, scientists have completed the first genome-wide association study of an infectious disease. Although it seems impossible (at least to me), they're trying to find out why some people can "bottle up" virus levels following HIV infection, which could lead to a better therapy (way of fighting the disease, i.e. medicament-wise) or to the developing of an effective vaccine.

They have designed the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI) in order to "foster collaborative research to overcome roadblocks that have impeded HIV vaccine development", as stated by NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

The idea, in short, is to gather the genome of a lot of individuals who show all the symptoms of an HIV infection and compare it with the genome of persons who were resistant or didn't show any of the "hard" symptoms for quite some time. I'd like to quote Dr. Haynes here:
People vary greatly in their vulnerability to HIV infection. In particular, there are striking and largely unexplained differences between individuals in the degree to which they are able to hold viral levels to a low set point in the period soon after infection.
If scientists can locate the vulnerable genes by this differential study... well, we've got a way of fighting it ;)
Now, as I stated above, I believe it's impossible to make an all-around vaccine for HIV, because the type of this specific virus mutates easily, because of its genetic structure - It's wikipedia link alright, but I'm warning you, that link contains a lot of 'complexicated' medical stuff. Secondly, I'm wondering what the vaccine will do: will it be a gene-mutating vaccine or an production-halting one? Gene mutations on humans are absolutely out of question I guess, so that leaves us to an production-halting one, which disables one or more enzymes or halts the production of one of the key "ingredients" of the virus' reproduction cycle (takes out some substances that enhance their creation or puts in substances that disable enzymes). This method usually has several life-long side-effects, but if they is a vaccine that has far less side-effects than its willing effects, then I think it's good to go. The vaccine should also be low-cost one, since it will be used for the general public and not for posh people.

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