BEAVERTON, Ore. – A major breakthrough at Oregon Health & Science University could lead to a vaccine against HIV or AIDS.
After devoting 10 years to developing an HIV vaccine, Dr. Louis Picker and his team recently tested it on monkeys at OHSU’s research facility in Beaverton.
All of the monkeys were given version of HIV, and some were also given the vaccine. Researchers said the virus could not be detected in more than half of the monkeys given the vaccine.
“We know the animals got infected. We could find the virus in the body initially, and then it would go away,” Picker said. In fact, researchers said, after a time, there remained no signs that indicated the vaccinated monkeys were ever infected at all.
Researchers believe the vaccine wouldn’t cure people with AIDS, but it could help stop HIV in the early stages of infection.
“The virus is actually attacked by the equivalent of combat troops, and it’s both suppressed and hopefully the cells that bear it are sought out and eliminated,” said Picker. “If (a person gets) infected, the infection gets handled, it gets controlled or gets eliminated. And they don’t have to worry about drugs, and they may never even know - almost certainly never know - they were infected.”
About 17,000 people in the Northwest live with HIV/AIDS, including George Holman.
“HIV isn’t who we are; it’s only a part of who we are,” Holman said. “The stigma is the hardest part, and many of us thought we’d never see the day like today where the potential for what it means to combat stigma in the community at large.”
After years of false hope, he said this breakthrough is promising.
“Anything that can give those of us in the community hope and a reason to carry on the fight is tremendous news,” he said.
There is still a long way to go. Researchers must now reformulate the vaccine for use on humans, then test it again. The process is expected to take about eight years.