Adelaide researchers claim a breakthrough in tackling HIV and hepatitis C using a DNA vaccine.
"Because we want to improve the efficacy of the DNA vaccination, we target the skin because the skin has a much greater proportion of white blood cells, which are important for the kind of immunity that we’re trying to impart," he [Adelaide University’s Professor Eric Gowans] said.
The DNA vaccine stimulates the body’s immune response and combines with the white blood cells to kill HIV or hepatitis C cells.
"What we need to do is to target that small population of white blood cells, which circulate generally in the body, and unless the vaccine targets those cells, the vaccine isn’t effective and isn’t efficient in any way," Professor Gowans said.
"So we’ve developed a strategy that targets these white blood cells in an indirect manner; we generate a little inflammation and that attracts all these white blood cells to that site of vaccination."
Professor Gowans says other researchers have used skin to deliver the vaccine, but not to target white blood cells in this way.
"We kill the cells that the vaccine is targeted to, and then those dead cells are highly inflammatory and they attract more of these white blood cells, so that is the difference," he said.
The vaccine is currently designed to treat patients who already have hepatitis C.
The article also adds “… Professor Gowans says it is likely it could be used as a preventative vaccine for hepatitis C and HIV in the next five years" but considering the vaccine is not going into its first clinical trials until next year, I suspect that "five years" is more of a hope than a reality. That said, people have been looking at DNA vaccines for HIV for a long time, and if they’re mainly doing trials to make sure the delivery method works, then perhaps it will be as simple as plugging an existing HIV vaccine into the new delivery method. Anyway, exciting stuff.
Sorry, but that article is completely incomprehensible from an actual virology and immunology stand point. HCV and HIV are completely different viruses, there is literally no vaccine that will induce an adaptive immune response that will protect against both, and an innate immune response is likely to be highly ineffective at either. It is possible that the research is saying he’s found a delivery/adjuvant combo that could potentially increase the immune response to a standard vaccine, but the basis for the vaccine still needs to be virus specific. The problem is there’s no actual scientific paper cited in the article, so there’s no way for me to assess the actual biology behind his claims. Which, again, from a biological stand point are way too vague to be meaningful. Plus, he’s basically saying he induces a non-specific inflammatory immune response, which really isn’t ideal. It’s too broad and can result in really bad secondary effects like cytokine storms. Furthermore, DNA vaccines skin delivery aren’t new, they’ve been around for at least 5 years, so the ‘exciting new’ technology he’s talking about isn’t new.
Plus, there are no effective HIV vaccines, regardless of delivery mechanism. HIV envelope protein is highly glycosylated (covered in sugars) that mask any immune targets and the few exposed regions undergo very high mutation rates, making antibody based immunity very hard to induce (antibody based immunity is how all current vaccines work). Furthermore, even in the cases where people develop broadly neutralizing antibodies, there is little evidence that those antibodies actually protect the people from developing AIDS. A big part of this is that we actually have a very poor understanding of how HIV persists in people. Patients can go on antiretroviral drugs (HAART) and decrease the viral burden (viral infection), but as soon as they stop taking the drugs the virus reemerges and kills their remaining immune cells. So there’s this ‘unknown reservoir’ of quiescent infected cells that maintain the virus even on drug therapy. And we don’t know what they are. Inducing a broad inflammatory immune response is very unlikely to actually affect that population.
So, that’s kinda long and ramble-y, but it basically boils down to, that article is bullshit. And since they didn’t link to an actual paper, I can’t tell if his claims are bullshit as well. Don’t believe this. At all.
Oh, and I am a virology graduate student at a top 10 virology/microbiology research university. I study the innate immune response to virus infection.