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Strengthen immune system against HIV

An Israeli research team has developed a vaccine that significantly strengthens the bodys immune system against the autoimmune response caused by HIV infection. This breakthrough could dramatically improve the treatment of AIDS patients.

Representation of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Dr. Rivka Abulafia-Lapid from the Hadassa Ein Karem medical center in Jerusalem, and her colleagues, recently discovered a way to prevent autoimmune response in AIDS patients. This breakthrough will decrease the number of infections AIDS patients suffer from and may eventually improve and extend their life.

The HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, infects a type of white blood cell called CD4, the blood cells that are an integral component of the bodys immune system. As the HIV attacks and destroys the CD4 cells, the weakened immune system becomes less able to fight infection and disease. HIV can also eventually cause AIDS, the last and most severe stage of the HIV infection. Since the beginning of the 1980's, when the disease was first recognized, it took the lives of over a million people in the U.S. alone and today it is estimated that about 40 million people world wide are carrying the disease, most of them in Africa and Asia.

The research conducted by Dr. Abulafia-Lapid and her team between 1998 and 2002, with an additional two-year monitoring period, included seven patients who were administered an experimental vaccine to increase the number of CD4 cells.

The research was based on the hypothesis that in addition to HIV causing AIDS by invading and killing CD4 blood cells, HIV causes the bodys central immune system to start killing these cells independently of the virus as a consequence of an auto-immune process. For most AIDS patients, the central immune system does not recover even if the HIV virus is almost eliminated through treatment with the cocktail of medications. Initially, the researchers identified another group of blood cells called CD8 which are involved in the autoimmune process and are supposedly responsible for destroying CD4 cells in the immune system. After extensive testing in the laboratory this hypothesis was confirmed and the scientists set out to prepare a vaccine that would destroy the CD8 cells by injecting it under the skin of the patient in order to trigger a response against these harmful cells.

Of the seven patients who were administered the vaccine, five responded positively and had an increase of more than 50% in the number of CD4 blood cells over a six-month period. With these encouraging results, the team plans to conduct extended clinical trials that will show that the vaccine is non-toxic and safe to use. The vision of the AIDS researchers (like those of cancer researchers) is to make the disease chronic, thus allowing people to continue living long and productive lives with the disease while routinely receiving their medications.

Iddo Genuth

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