Spanish scientists have made a major breakthrough in HIV vaccine research. Rather than simply suppressing the effects of HIV with outside treatment, the new treatment provides a vaccine which causes the human immune system to fight back, a notoriously difficult challenge for HIV positive patients.
The vaccine was tested on a randomly selected group of HIV patients already on the best medications available. The effects were impressive, with some patients seeing a 90% drop in HIV viral loads after 12 weeks. Felipe Garcia of Barcelona University's Hospital Clinic described the process:
What we did was give instructions to the immune system so it could learn to destroy the virus, which it does not do naturally.
The study, published in Science Translation Medicine, said that "The therapeutic vaccine, a shot that treats an existing disease rather than preventing it, was safe and led to a dramatic drop in the amount of HIV virus detected in some patients."
“This investigation opens the path to additional studies with the final goal of achieving a functional cure — the control of HIV replication for long periods or an entire life without anti-retroviral treatment,” the researchers said in a statement.
Though the new vaccine is an exciting breakthrough, it has its limits, at least for now. The effectiveness of the treatment appeared to decline after a year. Researchers are now working on an improved version that provides sustained treatment over a longer time.