the torch Spring 2015, Issue 1 - Page 16

F C U S O N R E S E A R C H HIV in the crosshairs: Researchers closer to HIV vaccine breakthrough A lthough modern medicine has made significant strides in the treatment of HIV, it is still without a cure. Today, HIV medications help extend a patient’s lifespan, but often have serious side effects. New research, however, is in development for therapeutic vaccines that could help HIV patients to maintain strong immune systems. Researchers at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR) are part of the international research team focusing on this improved treatment option for HIV-infected individuals. “If these therapeutic vaccines work, they will be a significant advance in the treatment of HIV,” said Louis Sloan, M.D., a research investigator DR. LOUIS SLOAN at BIIR who specializes in infectious diseases. “In our initial trial, every patient had a decrease of the ‘viral load’ [amount of virus in the body], compared to their levels before starting standard medications. We have more research to do before these vaccines move into standard patient care, but we’re all very excited by the potential that they offer.” The research team from BIIR collaborated with the Vaccine Research Institute in Paris, France, and the French government’s AIDS research agency to conduct this trial. In September 2014, they published results of their “safety” trial with 19 Dallas HIV patients, one of the first required steps in new drug development to determine a drug has no harmful side effects. The trial used 18 16 e a c h pat ient’s ow n w h ite blo o d c e l l s , sp e ci a l ly treated outside the body, and then re-injected as a patient-specific vaccine. A future trial is planned that will build on these initial findings. A new vaccine technology developed in this collaborative program is also advancing to clinical trials, which are slated to begin at the end of 2016. “I am excited about the new antibody technologies that we have developed that will directly activate the immune system against HIV,” said Gerard Zurawski, Ph.D., co-director of BIIR and lead researcher in Baylor’s HIV vaccine program. HIV attacks the body by infecting T cells in the blood, which are supposed to kick-start the immune system to fight off viruses. The therapeuDR. GERARD ZURAWSKI tic approaches that the Baylor Dallas teams are helping to dev