Saturday, September 13, 2003

smallpox vaccine shows promise against HIV/AIDS

Though more testing is required, a study has found that a smallpox vaccine produced by the UK biotech firm Acambis can protect against HIV/AIDS.
Laboratory tests showed that blood samples from people vaccinated against smallpox were fives times less likely to become infected by the Aids virus.

... Professor Ken Alibek, director of the [George Mason] university's centre for biodefence, said it was not known why the vaccine appeared to boost immunity to the Aids virus. "There is a strange connection between the discontinuation of the smallpox vaccine in Africa and the emergence of the HIV infection."
Here is a bit more on the theory from the press release announcing the results of the study.
Based on the natural history or spread of HIV in Africa, Weinstein and Alibek proposed that declining immunological responses to smallpox -- due to the elimination of the disease and the discontinuation of immunizations -- may have been associated with the emergence of HIV.

... The study was conducted using blood cells from 10 vaccinated and 10 unvaccinated subjects. Despite the small number of subjects involved, there was a statistically significant difference in resistance to HIV infection between the blood cells from the vaccinated and the unvaccinated subjects. HIV failed to grow or grew at substantially reduced levels in the cells from the vaccinated group when compared to the unvaccinated group. Weinstein and Alibek explain that these results suggest smallpox vaccination may be adapted to provide an individual with significant protection to subsequent HIV infection.