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May 18th, 2011
10:56 PM ET

On HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, the search continues

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. It's a day to remember the thousands of volunteers, health care professionals, advocates, scientists and community members who work tirelessly on a safe, effective vaccine. But 30 years into the epidemic that has claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans, there is still no vaccine. That's not to say there haven't been a number of promising clinical trials.

The National Institutes of Health says it continues to move toward that goal. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says he is optimistic there will be one and says a trial of 16,000 people in Thailand in 2009 proves a safe and effective vaccine is possible. In that trial the vaccine was well tolerated and was 31% effective in preventing HIV infection.

"Many of the best minds in HIV vaccine science are examining blood samples and data from the Thai trial to learn how the vaccine candidate prevented HIV infections and to consider how it could be modified to be more effective."

Fauci says the challenge is that most vaccines against viral diseases–like measles, influenza and polio–stimulate antibodies that control the virus. This prevents illness and eventually gets rid of the virus. With HIV, the virus has multiple ways of evading the body's immune defenses.

"HIV rapidly mutates and an infected person's immune system generally cannot keep up with all of the ever-changing variants of the virus in his or her body. In addition, within days of infection, HIV begins to destroy critical immune cells that normally protect against the virus; this attack on the body's defenses is relatively unique among pathogens," Fauci said. "HIV inserts itself into the DNA of human cells where it can remain undetected by the immune system. These challenges have made it extremely difficult to design a vaccine that prevents an infection from establishing itself in the body."

Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC-Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, an organization committed to the global delivery of AIDS vaccines, says recent breakthroughs have provided important clues that will lead to a safe, effective vaccine.

"HIV is a one of the toughest enemies ever, and the scientific challenges it poses have kept researchers puzzling over ways to defeat this virus for decades now. The good news, though, is that we are closer now than we have ever been to finding a safe and effective vaccine. The results of the RV144 trial that took place in Thailand proved in 2009 that an AIDS vaccine is possible and gave new clues and renewed hope to the fight," said Warren. "We've also seen tremendous breakthroughs in antiretroviral-based prevention interventions. Thirty years since the disease was identified, science is presenting us with new knowledge and, more importantly, new opportunities. We now have a combination of new and emerging HIV treatment and prevention options, including vaccines, that allow us talk honestly about an end of AIDS in our lifetimes."

Daniel Montoya, executive director for the National Minority AIDS Council, says minorities are underrepresented in HIV vaccine trials and that has to change.

"In order for any search for and HIV vaccine to be successful, those communities who bear the largest burden of infection need to be represented in trials., Montoya said. "Huge strides are being made in HIV/AIDS research every day, and we must ensure that the vaccine trials receive both adequate funding and appropriate minority representation. Thirty years into the epidemic, it is our best hope of finally bringing it to an end."


soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. edweird69

    Too late now. My friends have all died from it anyway. I don't really care whether they ever find a cure for this thing. There'll just be another illness, just as evil, right behind it. My friends all prayed for healing... it didn't work either.

    May 19, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Weird, Ed!

      Did you really just say, "I don't care whether they find a cure?" Wow!

      May 20, 2011 at 04:20 | Report abuse |
    • ali yumuşakdaş

      Listen to me saying that. AIDS / HIV treatment and I am the definitive treatment. CDT4 cell renewal disease completely disappear.
      Waiting for it to show interest in the newspaper.
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      December 13, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
  2. Todd

    The treatments work pretty well, if you catch the disease early, and if, of course, you have access to the treatments.

    May 19, 2011 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Rudyroundish

    Chri Rock said it best years ago. They will never find a cure for AIDS or it will never be made public because they can make more money on the MEDS that keep you alive. Got to love the recurring revenue stream.

    May 19, 2011 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. spm

    Rudyroundish: this is not likely -the companies that make the drugs are not the same ones making a vaccine. I work for one that makes one of the drugs and we do not make vaccines at all. I do hope a vaccine comes out in my lifetime!!

    May 19, 2011 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kris

    The Medication works VERY WELL now...so EVERYONE should be tested. I believe that a cure or a "Functional Cure" will be discovered and used in the next 5 yrs. The best bet is to be safe. THe next best advice I can give is to get tested and if Positive, treat the HIV. It does not have to kill you in this day and age. Lots of misinformation, and ignorance still runs crazy around HIV.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Weird, Ed!

      Wrong. The virus mutates quickly, and there are strains that the current medications don't really help. Yes, it can end your life, especially if you have a particularly virulent strain or a strain that your immune system finds impossible to deal with. Waiting lists for medication are long. Most people can't afford the medication, while they wait for a program to fund it. Such programs are being cut left-and-right. So it's not right to go around telling people not to worry, it's not a killer anymore. Oh, yes it is. It always will be, until we find a cure.

      May 20, 2011 at 04:23 | Report abuse |
  6. alison

    There is an article circulating the net right now stating that there is a man in SF that has been "cured" of AIDS. Is there any truth to it?

    May 19, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Katie

    Enough with the dependence on vaccines. Try working on killing the virus that's within people. Vaccines are a false hope that profit the drug companies. They don't work on 20% of the population, they can be anywhere from 1% to 100% effective on those that do respond to them, and they may last from six weeks to forever, depending on the individual. And side effects can be just as bad as the disease, only in a different way, and I'm not talking about autism, which probably is not because of any one vaccine. Research for a cure, that's where the money should go, no into a vaccine.

    May 19, 2011 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Tony

    Big Pharma might not want a cure to come out, but if some University or lab gets close to a cure, Big Pharma will have no choice but to get onboard.

    May 19, 2011 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. James Armstrong

    Proven curative therapies for HIV number in the hundreds. The problem is that none of these natural plant compounds will receive FDA approval ed you can't get a return on the 50-100 million dollar investment needed to secure the proper human clinical trials required needed to prove what has already been established in the in vitro and animal models
    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/disease/hiv-infections

    May 20, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. ali yumuşakdaş

    hiv / aids can help to treat the disease easier. I know the treatment.
    Herbal therapy. There are guaranteed treatment.
    hiv_63@hotmail.com

    May 22, 2011 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ali yumuşakdaş

    Definitive treatment in 12 months. specific plants.

    May 22, 2011 at 03:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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    hiv2 hiv1 and 12 months in the exact solution. definitive treatment. Hive latest in the world.

    May 22, 2011 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Scientist all over the world should be open, timely and effective to share findings on this killing desease.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.