Future of HIV Cure: Combination Therapy Offers Frontline Protection

New progress made towards the development of an HIV vaccine.

A combined treatment approach using a common cold virus and a DNA-based vaccine helped the immune system actively protect against HIV in the gut and bodily cavities in a study published in Scientific Reports.

Researchers delivered a rhinovirus, altered to include HIV proteins, inside the nose of mice. Simultaneously, the mice were injected with a DNA-vaccine, which caused very specific responses in the immune system.

The authors said these findings represent an important step towards introducing a first-line of defense against HIV at the site of infection.

“With sexual activity being one of the primary methods of HIV transmission, it’s necessary to try to protect those parts of the body that are most likely to encounter the virus first,” said senior study author Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk. “A possible reason why previous HIV vaccine trials have not been successful is because of this lack of frontline protection.”

The authors said it is important to note that the vaccine approach encompasses 2 different arms of the immune system, as white blood cells attack the virus and specific antibodies recognize and shut down the HIV-infected cells.

“There’s an element of HIV known as Tat [transactivator of transcription] that helps the virus to replicate quite rapidly,” said researcher Eric Gowans. “One of the beauties of our vaccine approach is that the antibodies inhibit the Tat effect, preventing HIV from replicating itself.

“Overall, we found that infection was considerably reduced in the mice we studied. The findings of our work now support the need for further testing of this targeted approach to an HIV vaccine.”