A genetically-engineered HIV vaccine under study by Texas researchers works in a novel way.
It targets specific cells exactly where the virus enters the body, stimulating them to generate an immune response so the virus can't take hold.
If the strategy bears out, the vaccine will be a single dose and last a lifetime, says Marie-Claire Gauduin, PhD, assistant scientist at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
''Many other HIV vaccines try to block the infection when the virus is already in," she says. "Here we try not to be infected to begin with," Gauduin tells Take Part.
About 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, according to estimates by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Most do not know it. The new vaccine, if perfected, could be given to children at puberty to stem this toll, Gauduin says.
Most new cases of HIV infections worldwide are transmitted by sexual intercourse through outer layers of cells known as epithelial cells. These line the surfaces of structures throughout the body.
The target of the new vaccine is the mucosal layers of the epithelium in the genital and rectal areas, where the virus typically enters.
"We are targeting the basal layer, the lower layer of epithelial stem cells," she says. These stem cells divide and differentiate into specialized cell types.