Researchers hopeful HIV treatment trialled on monkeys may prevent infection

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Researchers are hopeful that a treatment for HIV, which appeared capable of blocking infections in monkeys, may work as an effective vaccine against HIV.

The research, reported in Nature, and led by the Scripps Research Institute, looked at treating the monkeys by injecting subjects with a harmless virus which prompts the body to produce a protein which blocks parts of the HIV virus from attaching itself to cells.

This in theory works to stop the virus from spreading, and allows it to be removed by the body’s immune system.

Four rhesus macaques were used as subjects, and the treatment was able to prevent all of them from becoming infected with SHIV, a version of HIV adapted to be used in simian trials.

The monkeys were exposed to 16 times the amount of SHIV needed to normally infect monkeys which hadn’t received the treatment. The levels tested were said to be far more than a human would normally encounter during HIV transmission.

Researchers hope to move to human trials after another stage of testing to see if the treatment can be used to stop the virus from replicating in monkeys already infected with SHIV.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described the research as “very impressive”, saying “the method is quite promising”, to the New York Times.

He warned, however: “But it’s still just in an animal model, so we’ll need to see evidence of whether it works in humans.”

Human trials would take place in three stages – first testing the protein on its own in people already HIV positive, then testing the protein with the viral delivery method, before testing it on people at high risk of HIV infection.

Despite that a vaccine for HIV could be a long way off, one researcher on the project notes that they hope to be able to start human trials within a year.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates last month predicted that a vaccine, and new more intensive drugs to combat HIV will be available in the next fifteen years.