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Why an HIV Vaccine Can't Work

20+ years of AIDS and no vaccine, why?
It's been over twenty years since Robert Gallo's announcement that he'd discovered the probable cause of AIDS. In the U.S., we've spent over 100 billion dollars researching HIV. Worldwide, there are over 100,000 researchers poking and prodding this retrovirus. Margaret Heckler announced in 1984 that a vaccine would be available within two years (1986). So many researchers, so much time, so much money...it's 2005, where's that vaccine?

There are two important points to consider with HIV and vaccines. First, how do vaccines work? To most laypeople, a vaccine must seem like an almost magical fluid that gets injected into a person and voila, they're cured. Vaccines don't cure anybody of anything, not directly anyway. Unlike drugs, which are designed to disrupt, interrupt, alter or terminate certain cellular functions, vaccines essentially help the body help itself. A weakend, or altered form of the virus we're trying to combat is injected into the body. The immune system recognizes this presence as an invader and sets about creating antibodies against it. So far, so good.

The second point to consider is how we go about diagnosing HIV infection. Everybody knows that we use an antibody test to determine HIV positivity. So...we assume somebody's HIV-infected because their blood reacts to an antibody test, which obviously means they're naturally producing antibodies to HIV. Back to the vaccine! So how would a vaccine-induced antibody response differ from one induced by HIV itself? How would a weakened/altered form of HIV entice the immune system into creating better antibodies to HIV than the ones it produces against the real thing? Anybody notice a problem here?

Pretend for a moment that a vaccine against HIV has been made. You get injected with it, and soon your body starts producing antibodies to HIV. Ok, no problem. At some point in the future, you come into contact with HIV. Your immune system notices this invader, and with it's previously-acquired HIV antibodies, sets about to eradicate it from your body. How is this different from people today who are HIV positive (by the finding of HIV antibodies) whose immune systems are doing just what they're supposed to be doing...producing antibodies against HIV? It seems quite paradoxical that an immune system can be vigorously producing antibodies against a pathogen and still be viewed as fatally crippled. Immune systems produce antibodies, that's what they do. If an immune system was overwhelmed or devastated by a pathogen, a good clue would be that it wasn't able to produce antibodies.

So, somebody please tell me how a vaccine against HIV can be created. If our bodies and immune systems are already doing what a vaccine would help do, what's the missing part of the equation?
 
 


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Comments

Why an HIV Vaccine Can Work

 

Re: Why an HIV Vaccine Can't Work

Mr. Argue,
you do a nice job of giving us more general information about virology, but you don't answer the question: what part of the equation is missing? Are you attempting to answer that by saying there are "added challenges"? If so, what ARE those added challenges to creating a viable HIV vaccine?
 

Re: Why an HIV Vaccine Can't Work

Making a vaccine for AIDS is not as simple as injecting someone with a dumbed down version of the actual AIDS virus. If it were that simple, it would have been done already. According to the link below, there are no two people infected with exactly the same HIV virus. That is the crux of the problem: finding a common identifier to have the immune system target. Another part of the challenge lies in that the HIV virus infects the immume system itself. This is then like expecting to be rescued by a fire dept that is staffed from the burn ward. I'm not fully briefed on the issue, but in the case of most diseases there are a few individuals who have demonstrated immunity. I'm not sure if this is the case with HIV/AIDS. If this is the case, then a vaccine could work. If not, then my bet is that a vaccine will not work. Some monkeys are not as affected as humans by HIV, but it may be difficult to transfer their immunity to humans.

For more information on why the development of a vaccine is so difficult, visit people.ku.edu/~jbrown/hiv.html
 

Re: Why an HIV Vaccine Can't Work

John, yes there are a few genetically related people in Kenya that have been found to have immunity to HIV. They are the subjects of important research.

John makes some good points about what those "added challenges" are with HIV that I referred to, but it seems that you are both unaware of how advanced this research currently is.

There are presently vaccines that are going through clinical trials:


Public/Private Partnership of Merck and HIV Vaccine Trials Network To Conduct First Efficacy Test of Merck Vaccine Candidate, January 24, 2005

www.hvtn.org/media/press_releases.sht

AIDS breakthrough - vaccine strengthens the body’s immune system againts HIV, Disease/Infection News, Tuesday, 28-Dec-2004

www.news-medical.net/
 

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