More Than Two Years Later, HIV Vaccine Mystery Remains Unsolved

By Allison Bond | July 21, 2009 5:30 pm

syringesIn September 2007, HIV research faced a serious setback: Scientists found that a promising HIV vaccine was actually increasing the rate of HIV infection, and the so-called STEP vaccine trial was immediately halted. The failure had a ripple effect, and caused researchers to call off another vaccine trial that operated on a similar principle. Since then, researchers have developed multiple explanations for why the vaccine upped the risk of infection. Now two new studies presented in Nature Medicine refutes the latest of these hypotheses, which gives researchers valuable information but ultimately leaves the mystery unsolved.

The recent theory held that some people responded more strongly than others to a component of the vaccine tested in the STEP trial, making them more vulnerable to HIV, which attacks immune cells that are actively responding to a pathogenic threat [Nature News].  Because the vaccine was constructed on the modified backbone of the virus that causes the common cold, the theory posited that white blood cells called helper T-cells jumped into action to combat this infectious particle. Unfortunately, HIV targets these T-cells, scientists reasoned, so vaccination actually gave HIV a larger target. This would explain why vaccination increased the risk of HIV infection.

Furthermore, scientists postulated, the immune systems of people who had been exposed to the cold virus used in the vaccine, known as adenovirus 5, might have “recognized” the virus more readily, producing more T-cells. To investigate, researchers analyzed the T-cell levels of people who received the vaccine (the study is no longer double-blinded). They found that people with previous exposure to adenovirus 5 did not have more T cells that recognized adenovirus 5. They did not make more T cells after vaccination, and did not make more ‘activated’ T cells — those specifically targeted by HIV — than those who had no previous exposure to the cold virus. “The bottom line is that, immunologically, there do not appear to be any substantial differences” between those who were and were not exposed to adenovirus 5, “so this would not explain the differences in HIV susceptibility seen in the STEP trial” [Nature News], says Michael Betts, lead author of one of the studies.

Although the reason for the vaccine trial’s results remain a mystery, researchers in the field remain optimistic about the lessons it may hold. The STEP study and the ensuing research served as “an important lesson for this field,” said Bernstein. “The mistake was thinking was the trial failed because the candidate failed. We shouldn’t mix up the two. The trial will be a success if we learn something from it, [and] I think that’s turning out to be the case” [The Scientist], said molecular biologist Alan Bernstein. The findings also reopen the door for further HIV vaccine efforts based on similar principles [The Scientist].

Related Content:
80beats: HIV Vaccine Trial Cancelled in a Setback for AIDS Research
80beats: Step Towards an AIDS Vaccine? Monkey Muscles Produce HIV-Fighting Proteins
80beats: Scientists Design Assassin Immune Cells to Kill HIV-Infected Cells

Image: flickr / i woz ere

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Rob
  • scribbler

    No mystery at all. Find a cure and you collect only once. Find a “treatment” and you collect for years…


    Interesting video!

  • Soopfar Janyarkooar

    I am a scientist from India that was given the AIDS virus from the US Government in the LATE 1970’s. It was during a clinical trial…that’s what they called it. During the 90’s, though, there was a CURE DISCOVERED. I GOT THE CURE. So did many others, but it is not talked about. Myself, Magic Johnson, Tommy Morrison, and many others that I do not know the names of. Nameless survivors. People – there is a cure. It is out there and I have seen it. It takes work to find, or know the right people to get you in, but its there and its real. The drug companies don’t want you to know they’ve discovered it and only rogues of that industry can get it for you. Keep looking and its there.

  • Emily

    Soopfar Janyarkooar, I have AIDS how can I get this cure?

  • Timothy Chase


    Have you heard of psychic surgery?

    People have cancer. They don’t want to take the expensive cancer treatment or undergo chemotherapy. They go to see a psychic surgeon who tells them that he can remove the tumor without even opening them up. He has them lie down, they can feel his probing hand. It’s wet. He shows them what looks to be a tumor which he claims to have just removed from them.

    Its an organ from a chicken. They feel better for a little while. Then they get sick again and go back to see their regular doctor. The cancer wasn’t removed — it had instead metastasized — spread throughout their body. And now it is incurable.
    When it comes to HIV, mainstream scientists know what they are talking about. The evidence that HIV causes AIDS is overwhelming.

    Please see for example:

    Moreover we know of other closely related viruses that behave much the same way in other species — and we can identify earlier retroviral infections that swept through our species by the relics of themselves that they left in our genomes when they spared the survivors as they became less virulent and settled into a symbiotic relationship with their hosts. We understand that this single stranded RNA virus is the most rapidly mutating virus to infect humans — able to mutate around nearly any single drug that we can throw at it — although in the realm of virus-like agents that infect bacteria — and to which it is distantly related — there are things that mutate much more rapidly.

    We know that it specifically targets the T4 cells of the immune system, virtually wiping them out as the patient becomes sick. We know that by rapidly mutating it creates so many variants that by means of this alone it could overwhelm the immune system. It leaves the immune system unable to withstand the onslaught of diseases that haven’t a change against an immune system that hasn’t been compromised.

    And we know that even if, like Magic Johnson, you were able to knock the virus down to undetectable levels, chances are the infection would simply be lying dormant in tissues the drugs you were using couldn’t get to. Stop the treatment and the virus will likely come back with a vengeance. Take the treatment only 80% of the time that you are supposed to and you will become the perfect incubator for a disease that cannot be held in check by the medicine you are taking.

    The cocktail is your best chance of living long enough to see the doctors come up with something better. Take it if you can, and take it religiously — as if your life depends on it. Because at this point it does. Don’t fall for those that promise you an easy cure.

  • Louis Vuitton On Sale

    Thank you for another informative site. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal way? I have a project that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

  • noreen martin

    Many of us have stopped the toxic drugs and we are healthy. The reason that we can do this is because HIV has never been properly purified according to the classic rules of virology. After billions of our tax dollars spent, not one epidemiology study has ever been done that proves HIV is
    the cause of AIDS. There isn’t one study on the planet that proves HIV is spread by sex. And Luc Montagnier, the true discoverer of the virus, stated that HIV could be cleared within weeks if one has a healthy immune system. He went on to state in The House Of Numbers that drugs and vaccines were not needed. Many of us have taken him at his word and we are now living normal, healthy lives.

    In 2003 I had FULL-BLOWN AIDS. For the past six years, I have not taken the HAART. Others are doing this too once they learn about HIV, a harmless, passenger, retrovirus. Go to AIDS Rethinking sites and learn what the mainstream is not telling you.

  • Soopfar Janyarkooar

    Ibitswammi Vandefloon from Burma. This is the man that is needed to be spoken to regarding these matters.

    Contacting him has been an exercise of futility as he is living an agrarian life in the foothills, but he is in posession of cocktail medicines.

    Ibitswammi MUST be found.

  • Soopfar Janyarkooar

    I have Ibitswammi – we are making disco movie around globe.


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