HIV rapidly adapts to counter immune attack-controlling human genes

February 26th, 2009 - 3:32 pm ICT by ANI  

London, February 26 (ANI): An international study suggests that HIV is evolving so rapidly to escape the human immune system that it may prove very difficult to develop a vaccine that keeps pace with the changing nature of the virus.

The researcher behind the study have revealed that they have found HIV to be able to adapt rapidly to counter human genes controlling immune system molecules that can target it for destruction.

They, however, insist that that finding would not affect the impact of anti-HIV medicines.

All that they stress is that an effective HIV vaccine would need to be frequently changed to catch up with the evolving virus.

“This shows that HIV is extremely adept at adapting to the immune responses in human populations that are most effective at containing the virus. This is high-speed evolution that we’re seeing in the space of just a couple of decades, the BBC quoted lead researcher Professor Philip Goulder, of the University of Oxford, as telling Nature magazine.

“The temptation is to see this as bad news, that these results mean the virus is winning the battle.

“That’s not necessarily the case. It could equally be that as the virus changes, different immune responses come into play and are actually more effective.

“The implication is that once we have found an effective vaccine, it would need to be changed on a frequent basis to catch up with the evolving virus, much like we do today with the flu vaccine,” he said.

Jo Robinson, of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “HIV is a complex virus which is constantly changing. This kind of research suggests that if we’re able to create a vaccine that works against HIV, the virus will always be one step ahead. In that case we’d be in a situation where we need to constantly update the HIV vaccine, a bit like we see with a different flu vaccine each year.”

Keith Alcorn, of the HIV information service NAM, said: “These findings indicate the enormous challenge involved in developing a vaccine against HIV. People need to be aware that the research required to develop a successful vaccine may take decades, during which the virus will continue to evolve, as this research shows.” (ANI)

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