Health Alert: Stopping HIV

NATIONAL - It's a mind-boggling puzzle - how to develop a vaccine that can stop an ever-changing virus. But researchers and regular people are helping zero-in on an HIV vaccine.

Aaron Finley is a busy husband and father, but he's also a medical pioneer. "There's not much I can do, but this I can."

He's giving blood to help in research to find a vaccine against the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

Dr. Spyros Kalams says, "HIV has been a much tougher nut to crack. Uh, just because it is such a, a changing, uh, pathogen. It's really adapted very well."

Vaccines are under study try to mimic immune defenses researchers have seen in long-time HIV survivors. Dr. Kalams says, "It is trying to generate cells in our body that recognize other HIV-infected cells and kill them before they can spread the virus to maybe 200 or 300 of their neighbors."

Partnering the Adenovirus, better known as the common cold, with a snippet of HIV, causes the immune system to take notice when it tries to reproduce and spread. Dr. Kalams explains, "Our immune system doesn't know whether that's HIV or anything else. It recognizes that and kills that cell and we're vaccinated."

Another approach introduces bits of DNA. Dr. Kalams says, "What we're counting on is that the DNA that we give in a syringe will get into your muscle cells, make little pieces of the protein, and your immune system recognizes that."

Aaron is optimistic that a preventive vaccine will be found. "When they find a cure, I'll be proud to know that I helped in some small way."

A large international study of one vaccine candidate will begin this year and takes a combination approach to "prime" the immune system with a series of DNA injections, and then a "boost" dose using the Adenovirus and bits of HIV. Researchers emphasize that the small pieces of HIV cannot infect a person and cannot re-assemble into an infectious virus.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle