Gene therapy boost in mice blocked HIV virus

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology and elsewhere may have found a way to prevent HIV. They used a form of gene therapy to successfully block mice from contracting the deadly virus, The Huffington Post is reporting.

There's no guarantee, of course, that a successful concept in mice will work in humans. But the finding offers hope that scientists may have finally discovered how to develop an effective vaccine to prevent people from contracting HIV, something the Post notes hasn't worked yet on a large scale despite more than a decade of research. Fears about contracting HIV from a vaccine trial has also slowed development, as noted by our sister publication FierceVaccines.

For this research, scientists began with special mice carrying human immune cells able to grow HIV. They then injected into the rodents' leg muscles a harmless, adeno-associated virus that carries genes designed to specify antibody production--a response that commonly happens with a conventional vaccine. The idea is to provide genes that generate antibody proteins rather than trying to train the immune system to do so, the Post explains.

Scientists exposed the mice intravenously to escalating HIV levels, but they were protected by large concentrations of the antibodies, which developed after a single injection. And those antibodies remained in large concentrated amounts throughout the mice's lives. The Huffington Post notes that human trials would hopefully begin within a few years, and that the research follows similar promising results in monkeys reported in 2009.

Some significant funding sources helped bankroll the research, which is posted Nov. 30 in the advanced online publication of the journal Nature. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health financed the study along with the Caltech-UCLA Joint Center for Translational Medicine.

- here's the release
- read The Huffington Post story
- check out the Nature abstract