February 13, 2003
But yesterday at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who helped develop the strategy, reported that some monkeys eventually sickened and died, even after showing promising resistance to HIV. Three of four monkeys got sick during three years of follow-up after receiving the experimental Merck & Co. vaccine.
The two-stage vaccines involve a prime, in which HIV genes are injected into muscle and result in production of viral proteins, and a boost, often a harmless hollowed-out virus with more HIV genes. The aim is to induce the body to mount an attack by killer T-cells that destroy HIV-infected cells. While this may not prevent infection, it can minimize consequences by keeping viral levels low.
Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center Scientific Director Dr. David Ho called the monkey deaths "enough to be worrisome" and said the vaccine field seems to be shifting back to an older strategy that many had dismissed as unworkable against HIV. Ordinarily, vaccines work by prompting the immune system to produce antibodies that recognize and kill invading germs before infection is established. Although the body readily makes HIV antibodies, they cannot penetrate the thick coat of sugar on HIV's surface. But new studies suggest it is possible to concoct antibodies that actually do kill HIV, and studies are underway to find new ways to trigger their production.
02.12.03; Daniel Q. Haney