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New mRNA-Based Vaccine Shows Promise Against HIV

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday December 29, 2021
Originally published on December 14, 2021

A new vaccine using messenger RNA has shown promise in trials involving mice and monkeys, Interesting Engineering reports.

The results derive from "a study conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Moderna, and other institutions" looking into the efficacy of an mRNA-based approach to vaccines, a technique that has proven successful in the development of vaccines against COVID-19, the site detailed.

Referencing a new paper published in the journal Nature Medicine, the article summarized that the experimental vaccine "was safe and elicited the expected antibody and cellular immune responses against an HIV-like virus."

The authors of the new paper took note of "unsatisfactory" previous approaches to developing an HIV vaccine, pointing out that strategies based around the use of mRNA "have recently shown remarkable effectiveness against COVID-19," and documenting how the research team "designed a novel vaccine platform" that uses mRNA.

Interesting Engineering explained the science behind the approach researchers used, outlining how "mRNA COVID vaccines operate by giving cells genetic instructions to manufacture the coronavirus spike protein, which educates the immune system to be ready for the actual virus."

In the case of the experimental HIV vaccine, it's the production of two proteins specific to the virus that is stimulated, producing "virus-like particles" in a vaccine recipient's system that "are not infectious or disease-causing, but they can induce an immunological response to HIV."

"When compared to unvaccinated animals, rhesus macaques who got a priming shot followed by several boosters had a 79 percent lower per-exposure risk of infection by the simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV)," which is similar to HIV, the article detailed. A year after being inoculated, the test animals "had neutralizing antibodies against different HIV strains," the article adds, "therefore the researchers are currently modifying the techniques to increase the quality and quantity of vaccine response."

In a separate project, Japanese researchers "developed a vaccine that was able to kill a type of HIV in macaques during an early trial, and it could start human testing within just five years," the article noted.

Dr. Anthony Fauci wrote of the research, "This experimental mRNA vaccine combines several features that may overcome shortcomings of other experimental HIV vaccines and thus represents a promising approach."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.