Caltech team offers tantalizing data on HIV 'vaccine'

Caltech scientists have compiled compelling mouse data on a vaccine of sorts against HIV that has them eyeing human trials of the novel approach to killing off the otherwise intractable virus. Their findings follow failed attempts to produce an HIV vaccine using traditional methods and provide a glimmer of hope that preventive measures against the deadly virus are possible in people.

Unlike standard vaccines that use an antigen or dead bacteria to spur the immune system to produce antibodies or attacker T cells to wipe out infectious invaders, the Caltech method relies on an antibody gene carried into cells using a harmless virus. The researchers injected the therapy in to leg muscles of mice, where antibodies were produced and spread into the bloodstream. When the scientists injected those mice with HIV, the antibodies protected the animals against infection, according to the group's press release.

Replicating these kinds of results in humans will be the next challenge for the treatment. Developing an HIV vaccine has been a holy grail in the fight against AIDS, and the Caltech group, which was led by Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, had some support for its early work from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the NIH and the Caltech-UCLA Joint Center for Translational Medicine. The group has already begun plans to advance the treatment into human trials, Baltimore told the Associated Press.

"If humans are like mice, then we have devised a way to protect against the transmission of HIV from person to person," Baltimore, who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his pioneering cancer research, told the AP. "But that is a huge if, and so the next step is to try to find out whether humans behave like mice."

- here's the release
- read the AP story