HIV/AIDS vaccine research funded
SFU professor Jamie Scott, a Canada Research Chair in molecular immunity, and three international collaborators are getting a hefty financial boost in their efforts to develop an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has awarded the researchers $2.7 million to help them improve the effectiveness of a DNA-based vaccine that Scott’s former student Marinieve Montero first conceived eight years ago.
The researchers will use the funding to strengthen a vaccine they’ve made from a DNA fragment taken from the HIV genome.
The fragment encodes something highly prized in HIV/AIDS vaccine research. Called the MPER, it’s a region of the HIV envelope that retains mutations at a very low level compared to the rest of the virus’s genome, which continually mutates.
The MPER doesn’t retain mutations because they would hamper the virus’s ability to infect cells and duplicate itself.
Scott says the real challenge to creating antibodies that fight a constantly mutating virus such as HIV “is finding a region on the virus’s surface protein that rarely mutates.
“That provides an exposed site that does not change from virus to virus and that antibodies can attack. The MPER is such a site.”
Other researchers have made vaccines that expose a subject’s immune system to a synthetic version of the MPER, but the vaccines have not triggered the production of antibodies that recognize and attack HIV.
Scott and her partners believe this is because, to date, synthetic MPER vaccines have not replicated the viral MPER accurately. Scott and her colleagues say their new vaccines do a better job.
During the next four years, the researchers will test their improved MPER vaccines, which they hope will induce antibodies that are aggressive enough to prevent HIV from infecting lab subjects.