Oregon Health & Science University is currently seeking volunteers for human testing of its “promising” HIV vaccine. If that’s not enough, the Oregon university’s approach to its ground-breaking HIV vaccine is reportedly being used to develop vaccines for other diseases and infections, including tuberculosis. While many believe the TB is virtually eradicated, it actually kills almost 2 million people every year.
As Oregon Live reports, the Oregon university’s novel HIV vaccine could equate a huge step forward in the fight against HIV, as well as give the Oregon school the confidence and research it needs to pursue vaccinations against other deadly infections. In addition to being a stepping stone toward the prevention of HIV and TB, the current vaccine trials could open the door for vaccines that would prevent malaria and hepatitis C, among others.
“HIV is the poster child because it affects so many people, but there are many other conditions that are also extremely challenging to prevent or cure.”
According to reports, getting the Oregon university’s vaccine from human clinical trials to the market won’t be cheap or fast. Experts at Oregon Health & Science University are expecting to invest around a decade of time and tens of millions of dollars in the process of making their HIV vaccine dream a reality. The school will also need thousands of volunteers willing to be human guinea pigs.
If you’re a “healthy” potential volunteer in the area, you can sign up to be screened to participate in the HIV vaccine’s safety trial at the Oregon university.
If you are among the first 400 qualifying applicants for the Oregon University’s HIV vaccine trial, you will be screened for cytomegalovirus. Cytomegalovirus is a very common virus in the herpes family. Infected people carry it for life, but it rarely becomes symptomatic. The Oregon university’s HIV vaccine is reportedly based upon cytomegalovirus.
The screening results will provide a two-fold benefit to scientists at Oregon Health & Science University. First, it will provided the Oregon university with a pre-screened pool of people for the first phase of its new vaccines human trials (slated to begin next year.) Secondly, it will give researchers a good idea of the prevalence of cytomegalovirus in the local area.
The Oregon university’s HIV vaccine is based upon a live (but weakened) version of cytomegalovirus that has been genetically engineered to appear like HIV to the human immune system. Essentially, the herpes virus carries HIV-like material into the body, which the body then learns to fight off (like a typical vaccine).
Unlike a typical vaccine, however, the Oregon university’s HIV vaccine (incorporating cytomegalovirus) has the special characteristic of keeping T-cells on high alert. In this way, it teaches the body to attack HIV.
While the development of the Oregon university’s HIV vaccine is still in early development, during animal trials it reportedly cured 50-60 percent of HIV-infected monkeys.
According to a head researcher on the vaccine project, scientists aren’t 100 percent sure why they have been unable to improve upon that cure rate. He believes that the issue at hand is the virulence of simian immunodeficiency virus, which is “much more powerful than HIV” in humans.
“When you have such a hot pathogen, you can’t defend the gates of Rome against every invader.”
Scientists and researchers at the Oregon university hope (and believe) that the HIV vaccine will be much more effective in human clinical trials, merely given the differences between HIV and simian immunodeficiency virus.
If the novel HIV vaccine doesn’t cause any kind of an immune response in human clinical trial volunteers, scientists at the Oregon university will have to go back to step one. But they are confident that isn’t going to happen.
According to Oregon Health & Science University, the clinical trial has already been getting inquiry phone calls from people interested in the research study. Unfortunately, many of their potential applicants are already HIV positive and thus excluded from the vaccine study.
“Under federal regulations, only healthy volunteers can take part in safety trials that involve experimental treatments.”
Participants in the Oregon university’s research study may ultimately find themselves inoculated against (and thereby immune to) HIV. However, it’s very likely that any future HIV vaccine would be much improved upon in comparison to the research prototype.
What do you think? Is this trial a huge step forward for medical science? Or do you think that the Oregon university is risking people’s lives and health with their human clinical trials for a novel HIV vaccine?
[Image by Shutterstock]