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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 19:02 GMT
Aids vaccine shows promise
Lab work BBC
Animal trials have been very promising
An experimental vaccine has kept animals healthy even after exposure to very high levels of an HIV-type virus.

An aids vaccine would be the best long term solution to the global pandemic

Gavin Hart, National Aids Trust
The results are said to be among the best seen in animal experiments, and the vaccine is now on a fast track for human clinical trials.

The vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to produce more "memory" cells, which are capable of recognising HIV and launching a rapid defence if infection occurs.

The research was conducted by scientists from Emory University in the US.

Large numbers

Lead researcher Dr Harriet Robinson said: "We have been really excited about the level of control we have achieved with our memory response.

"Even among the groups that received the low-dose vaccine, the infections were controlled."

The monkeys received two shots of the vaccine, followed by a booster made using a smallpox vaccine first developed in the 1960s.

Although the vaccine does not prevent HIV infection, it controls it by keeping the virus from replicating in large numbers.

Controls replication

In tests, 24 inoculated monkeys remained healthy months after being injected with the virus.

In contrast, four non-vaccinated monkeys, which were also given the virus, developed Aids-related illnesses within 28 weeks and were put to sleep.

Peggy Johnston, from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: "These are among the very best outcomes we have seen in an animal model.

Victor Zonana, of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, said: "This is exciting, and should go into human trials as soon as possible - it looks as good as anything out there."

Poor relation

Gavin Hart, press spokesman for the National Aids Trust in the UK, said that around 25-30 prototype aids vaccines were currently under development.

However, he said more funding was needed to push forward research if a successful vaccine was to be a viable prospect within the next decade.

He told BBC News Online: "An aids vaccine would be the best long-term solution to the global pandemic.

"But unfortunately research into a vaccine is currently the poor relation when it comes to aids research, as most money still goes into research into finding new treatments."

The US company Vaxgen is currently analysing the results of large scale human trials of its vaccine. A vaccine developed by Oxford University is also undergoing preliminary human trials in the UK and Kenya.

The monkey research is published in the journal Science.

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See also:

04 Nov 99 | Aids
Aids up close
20 Oct 00 | Health
New vaccine 'may halt Aids'
31 Aug 00 | Health
HIV vaccine trials
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