WASHINGTON — Like a general whose direct attacks aren’t working, scientists are now trying to outflank the HIV/AIDS virus.
Unsuccessful at developing vaccines that the cause the body’s natural immune system to battle the virus, researchers are testing inserting a gene into the muscle that can cause it to produce protective antibodies against HIV.
The new method worked in mice and now has proved successful in monkeys, too, they reported Sunday in the online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.
The team is led by Dr. Philip Johnson of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
That doesn’t mean an AIDS vaccine for people is in the wings, Johnson said. Years of work may lie ahead before a product is ready for human use.
Nevertheless, the report was welcomed by Dr. Beatrice Hahn, an AIDS researcher the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who was not part of Johnson’s team. “It basically shows there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said in a telephone interview?
“It shows thinking outside the box is a good idea and can yield results, and we need perhaps more of these non-conventional approaches,” she added.
According to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, AIDS is one of the most devastating pandemics. More than 20 million people have died so far and about 33 million are living with HIV.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention last year estimated there are about 56,000 new HIV infections annually in the United States.
Most efforts at blocking AIDS have sought to stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight the disease.
This model has worked for diseases such as measles and smallpox. It hasn’t done as well with HIV/AIDS; test vaccines have failed to produce a protective reaction.