Breakthrough at OHSU could lead to HIV/AIDS vaccine

Breakthrough at OHSU could lead to HIV/AIDS vaccine »Play Video

BEAVERTON, Ore. – A major breakthrough at Oregon Health & Science University could lead to a vaccine against HIV or AIDS.

After devoting 10 years to developing an HIV vaccine, Dr. Louis Picker and his team recently tested it on monkeys at OHSU’s research facility in Beaverton. All of the monkeys got a version of HIV but some also got the vaccine. In more than half of the ones that got the vaccine, the virus could not be detected.

“We know the animals got infected – we could find the virus in the body initially and then it would go away,” Picker said.

In fact, over time there was no sign they were ever infected at all.

The thought is the vaccine wouldn’t cure people with AIDS but it could help stop HIV early on.

“The virus is actually attacked by the equivalent of combat troops, and it’s both suppressed and hopefully the cells that bear it are sought out and eliminated,” said Picker. “If (a person gets) infected, the infection gets handled, it gets controlled or gets eliminated, and they don’t have to worry about drugs, and they may never even know, almost certainly never know they were infected.”

About 17,000 people in the Northwest live with HIV/AIDS, including George Holman.

“HIV isn’t who we are. It’s only a part of who we are,” he said. “The stigma is the hardest part, and many of us thought we’d never see the day like today where the potential for what it means to combat stigma in the community at large.”

After years of false hope, he said this seems promising.

“Anything that can give those of us in the community hope and a reason to carry on the fight is tremendous news, it really is,” he said.

There is still a long way to go. The vaccine has only been tested on the monkeys. Researchers have to reformulate the vaccine to make it safe for humans. Then it will need to be tested again, a process that is expected to take another eight years.

The vaccine could help 300 Oregonians a year not get HIV/AIDS.