Tuesday, December 07, 2004

HIV "Vaccine"

An inquiring mind asked me what I thought of this article, revealing the encouraging results of AIDS-related vaccine trials. While the title of the article is highly misleading ("Human Test: Novel Vaccine Stops HIV"), the underlying research is a big step forward in our understanding of AIDS. They're using dendritic cells extracted from the AIDS-positive patient; they prime them with killed virus and reinject them in the patient. Dendritic cells can then go alert the immune system en masse. But don't go think that we found AIDS cure yet!

As I posted in the Slashdot article covering the subject :

Great idea : it may be of use for patient with resistance to all known anti-retrovirals. But...

It is NOT a vaccine. It is NOT a cure. It's a temporary (at best) treatment. The title is highly misleading. And its far from practical. You need to isolate dendritic cells from an (infected) patient, which is costly, require specific equipment and isn't trivial (forget developing countries, which can't even afford AZT). Then you pulse these cells with killed HIV, which I assume should come from the patient (else soon the treatment will go ineffective due to mutations acquired by the virus) and you reinject the cells, which will go 'alert' the immune system that something is wrong. So mass scale treatment is out of question. Basically, you're only boosting the (ineffective) immune system against HIV-1. After a year, their treatment reduced viral load by 90% in 8 of 18 patients. 90% isn't a lot (anti-retroviral do a lot better than that), and they aren't even achieving 50% success after a year. I would imagine that after 2 or 3 years, the success rate is even lower. And the CD4 count is stable, not increasing to normal levels.

So no, its not 'it'. Don't hold your breath either.

Edit : as fellow /. readers notified me, it IS technically a vaccine. Not a preventive one (most people, me included, associate the term "vaccine" with something you get before getting infection), but a therapeutic one. You can read the whole thread (filtered at +5) if you want more informative opinions on the subject.

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