AIDS vaccine researchers, meeting in Atlanta, expressed renewed optimism that they might finally be on a path to creating a product that can prevent the deadly HIV virus.
"A few years ago I was not even sure that it was possible," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Then last year, the RV144 trial in Thailand – a trial that many researchers thought would fail and tried to stop – showed a surprising 31 percent protection.
Fauci called it a significant "proof of concept" that such a vaccine is possible. "But we still do not know what the correlates of protection are." Correlates are those components of the innate and adaptive immune systems that provide protection.
Col. Nelson Michael, the U.S. Army researcher who led the Thai study, said collaborators at 20 academic centers are submitting the remaining blood samples from the trial to different analyses, trying to tease out exactly what was going on among those protected from infection.
The army, with the support of NIAID, is planning to start two mid-sized follow-up studies in populations with high rates of infection in 2013. The study in Thailand will focus on men who have sex with men and female sex workers; the other, in southern Africa, will be among high-risk heterosexual couples.
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