Monkey vaccine ‘effective,’ say researchers

By Neil Bowdler, Science reporter, BBC News

A new vaccine can protect macaques against the monkey equivalent of HIV and could provide a fresh approach to an HIV vaccine, a study suggests.

US researchers say the vaccine offered protection to 13 of 24 rhesus macaques treated in the experiment.

In 12 of the monkeys, the vaccine was still effective 12 months later.

They claim the work, published in the journalNature, could “significantly contribute” to the development of an effective HIV/Aids vaccine.

The researchers gave 24 healthy rhesus macaques a vaccine containing a genetically modified form of the virus, rhesus cytomegalovirus (CMV).

In 13 of the monkeys, the vaccine appeared to offer protection against simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the monkey equivalent of HIV. Of these 13, 12 monkeys were still protected one year on.

The researchers say the vaccine works by stimulating the production of a particular type of blood cell, called “effector memory T-cells”, which can remain vigilant in the body long after an infection has abated.

Lead author Professor Louis J Picker, of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Oregon, compares these cells to armed soldiers at the ready.

“There are soldiers that are back at the base with their rifles in the shed, and then you have the guys out in the field,” he told the BBC.

There was also evidence, he said, that the vaccine all but eradicated traces of SIV in the monkeys, something which he said was “unprecedented” in HIV vaccine research.

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