Jefferson Virologists Create Rabies Virus-Based Vaccine Against HIV
Researchers at Jefferson Medical College are using a new ploy to combat HIV, the AIDS virus: Rabies.
Scientists have devised for the first time an HIV vaccine using a weakened rabies virus to carry a piece of the HIV “coat” into a cell. In rousing the body into making anti-HIV antibodies, they may have found a way to effectively turn on the immune system against the virus. The work, which for now is limited to tests in mice, lends hope to eventually designing such a vaccine against HIV in humans.
The researchers, led by Matthias Schnell, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, and Roger J. Pomerantz, MD, Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Director of the Center for Human Virology, both of Jefferson Medical College, reported their findings March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using the rabies virus as a vehicle for a vaccine is novel, says Dr. Pomerantz.
“The rabies virus is the vehicle to get an HIV envelope protein to express itself, thus getting the attention of the immune system. It’s not only the first use of a rabies virus for an HIV vaccine, it’s the first use of a whole group of viral vectors – non-segmented negative-stranded RNA viruses – for HIV vaccines.”
The researchers are now also working on using the same approach against other viruses such as hepatitis C.
The scientists would like to continue testing the vaccine in more mice and then in other animal models in collaboration with scientists at the University of California at Davis. Those studies will likely begin in the next few months.
Much research remains to be done. “This is only in mice so far,” Dr. Pomerantz says. “We still have to prove it’s safe, and it will work against other worldwide HIV strains and in other animals. There’s never been an approach that fully works in non-human primates, for example. That’s the Holy Grail.
“There’s been a lot on HIV vaccines in the last 15 years,” Dr. Schnell says. “It’s very promising, but we by no means yet have the definitive HIV vaccine.”