University of São Paulo: Fourth case of HIV cure reignites hopes for vaccine against the virus

During the International AIDS Conference , which took place on July 27, held in Washington, USA, it was announced that an unidentified man was the fourth case of a patient cured of HIV. With the diagnosis of the Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus since 1988, he became the cured case with the longest living with the disease. For this, the patient received a bone marrow transplant to treat a blood leukemia and, coincidentally, the donor was immune to HIV. He has been in remission for 17 months, which means the virus is not being detected in his body.

Although the patient is cured, treatment by bone marrow transplantation (BMT), used against leukemia, is not indicated to cure the millions of people infected with the virus. “It is even important for people to know that BMT is a very complex and risky procedure. Imagine you ending up with all the immunity that the person has” explains the infectious disease doctor at the Outpatient Clinic specializing in HIV at the Hospital das Clínicas of the Faculty of Medicine of USP, researcher and coordinator of the Mosaico study on HIV vaccine. He says that “it is important that they have cases like this to be sure that a cure is possible”, even without a vaccine developed.

HIV mainly affects men who have sex with men. The recent monkeypox epidemic also draws attention to the contamination in this group and has opened space for a new wave of prejudice. “It’s impossible not to relate (monkeypox) to the 1980s and the beginning of the HIV pandemic. It’s a parallel that everyone makes, but I think it’s important to be careful not to stigmatize these people”, suggests Vasconcelos. For him, attributing the exclusive risk to these men creates the popular impression that there is no need to worry about HIV.

Mosaic Study
Through research into the efficacy of the experimental vaccine to prevent HIV, the Mosaic Study has been looking for large-scale solutions to curing the virus. The infectious disease specialist, who coordinates the study, notes that the Mosaic is not the only project with this purpose: “Although the Mosaic cannot find good results, there is already great expectation regarding this messenger RNA vaccine that is on its way” .

The vaccine being developed by Mosaico follows the technology of Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines against covid-19. The genetic material of the adenovirus, a virus modified in the laboratory to be harmless to humans, is grafted with HIV genes in order to receive an immune response resulting from vaccination. “A person vaccinated with adenovirus would produce an anti-HIV response without ever having encountered HIV in their lives”, explains Vasconcelos.

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