Aids vaccine researcher hopeful

2010-04-24 07:39

A LEADER in the search for a vaccine against HIV says recent

advances have given scientists new reason for hope.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine

Enterprise, cited the world’s first successful test of an experimental Aids

vaccine in an interview as a reason for his optimism.

In September researchers said the vaccine protected one in three

people from getting HIV in a large study in Thailand.

Bernstein also pointed to recent progress in determining whether

people with HIV produce antibodies that could lead to a vaccine guarding against

a variety of forms of HIV. He also said there was progress in mapping the many

variations of what he called a “clever virus” that has so far eluded vaccine

efforts because it kills some of the key cells needed to make a vaccine.

“This is a very exciting time in the field,” Bernstein said. “A

vaccine is possible and we have the scientific tools now to turn that

possibility into a reality.”

But he cautioned that a vaccine was still several years away.

Others are far less optimistic.

“I wish I could say I was but I’m not,” said Salim Karim, director

of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa.

“It’s proving to be a challenge that’s more complex than previously

thought,” he said, adding he had spent 15 years researching a vaccine and

expected success to take at least another 15.

Karim called the Thai study a “glimmer”.

Scientists must now try to improve the vaccine so that it protects

more than a third of the people who get it and lasts for more than the six to 12

months it now appears to be effective for.

Questions have been raised about whether an HIV vaccine was

possible and even whether it makes sense to devote time and energy to the

pursuit. Bernstein said a comprehensive approach that includes finding a vaccine

must be taken against Aids.

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