Unique discovery offers hope for HIV vaccine
Ever since its discovery in 1983, the mass killer HIV has resisted all attempts to create an effective vaccine. The reason is that it employs an extremely clever strategy to enter the body and disarm its immune system.
Now researchers at Linköping University have found the signalling pathway the virus uses to manipulate the white blood cells; knowledge that gives new hope in the fight to stem the spread of AIDS.
Once the virus penetrates through a wound in the skin or mucosa it is captured in one of the so-called dendritic cells as the first line of defence. Their task is to cut intruders into pieces and present them to T cells or T lymphocytes ("killer cells").
However, when an HIV infection occurs, they allow themselves be duped into taking the entire living virus into the tissue, and also activate the substances that take power out of the T cells and prevents them from dividing. Consequently continued HIV transmission is prolific, while at the same time, the gates thrown open to other infections and certain cancers that are typical of AIDS.
“We found the source of these inhibitory molecules. It is a unique discovery that opens the doors to the creation of an effective vaccine”, says Karlhans Fru Che, who recently defended his doctoral thesis in molecular virology.
“When we stopped traffic on that pathway, we managed to suppress the inhibitory molecules, which proved that it is that pathway that HIV uses”, says Karlhans Fru Che.
So far, Che and his colleagues have demonstrated the effect in cell cultures in the laboratory. The next big step will be to test whether the method works also "in vivo", in a living organism. The problem is that the most common experimental animals such as mice are not infected with HIV.
Instead, studies are needed on monkeys; which in their natural state often carry the closely related virus, SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus).
“We are hopeful that in the end we will be able to eradicate HIV. We’ve known about it for 28 years, and it took 40 years to get rid of polio”, says Karlhans Fru Che, shown wearing a traditional native dress from his home village Mankon in Cameroon.
Text: Åke Hjelm
Illustration: Rada Ellegård
Thesis: Immunomodulatory Effects of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV-1) on dendritic cell and T-cell responses by Karlhans Fru Che, Department of Molecular Virology, Linköping University. It was presented at the defence on September 2.
Last updated: 2012-12-10