Scientists are getting close to developing a vaccine for one of the most deadly diseases on Earth, according to a new study published Wednesday by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Researchers engineered an “on/off switch” into a weakened form of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The switch could allow the weakened virus to be used as a vaccine, and makes the virus much safer to use as a vaccine than other methods.
AIDS has killed approximately 35 million people over the last 35 years, according to the United Nations.
“Safety is always our biggest concern,” Dr. Wei Niu, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a statement. “In this case, we’re one step closer to generating a vaccine.”
Vaccines expose the body to weakened or deactivated viruses to confer immunity. The Nebraska team genetically engineered a version of HIV that needs a synthetic amino acid which cannot be found in the human body to replicate. This allows the body to develop immunity to HIV without putting it at risk of developing AIDS.
Other scientists have been able to use similar vaccines to make some animals immune to HIV, with one vaccine protecting 95 percent of rhesus monkeys against the virus.