By Chioma Obinna
For the first time since the battle against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, began, real hope has emerged of prospects of long-lasting immunity against the virus which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS.
This development arose from a scientifc feat by the Texas Biomedical Research Institute on a single dose novel HIV vaccine designed to last a lifetime.
Just last week, Texas Biomedical Research Institute applied for a patent for a genetically-engineered vaccine strategy to prevent HIV infection that targets the outer layers of body structures that are the first sites of contact with the virus.
Statistics available have shown that more than 90 percent of new HIV infections worldwide are transmitted by sexual intercourse through outer layers of cells called epithelial cells which line the surfaces of structures throughout the body. The new vaccine is directed to what the mucosal layers of the epithelium in the genital and rectal areas where the virus enters the body.
In Nigeria, populations at greatest risk for HIV comprise 3.4 per cent of population but account for up to 40 percent of new infections.
According to the researchers, the newly developed vaccine would lead to the continual production of disease-fighting cells without being eliminated by the immune system. Another feature of the vaccine system is that it could be adapted for use against other infections.
In the views of Marie-Claire Gauduin, from Texas Biomed’s Department of Virology and Immunology, who is also a co-inventor on the patent with Philippe Blancou, a visiting scientist from the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France; “The development of an effective AIDS vaccine that restricts viral replication at the mucosal level of entry may be our best hope for controlling the HIV pandemic.”
Gauduin added that only life-long stimulation of the immune system by the vaccine would be sufficient to achieve long-term protection.
One of the main reasons for the failure of HIV vaccines thus far is their inability to deliver antibody-producing cells for prolonged periods of time, thus only achieving weak and transient protection at best.
The primary target for viral transmission through different mucosal sites varies depending on the tissue. However, soon after crossing the mucosal layer, HIV rapidly spreads to lymph nodes and other organs where it replicates.
The vaccine will have a molecule and stem cell gene tagged to target epithelial cells, that combined, will promote the production of antibody-producing cells. Thus, the epithelial layer will continuously release new antibody-producing cells and not be eliminated by the body’s immune response.