The next step is to figure out what to do with the new information about chimps and AIDS. The findings "won't have any immediate benefits" for people, Hahn said. "If you're looking for the new drug or the new vaccine in the next year, this will not be it."
Still, the research should be helpful because chimps are 98 percent identical to humans genetically, she said.
Scientists will be interested in understanding why some chimps sicken quickly and others don't as that will help them gain insight into how AIDS affects humans. "There are some people who crash and burn, and others who live without treatment forever," she said.
Dr. Philip R. Johnson, chief scientific officer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the study findings suggest that the HIV-like infections in the chimps are somewhere between the viruses in monkeys (chimps are apes) that cause no disease and those in Asian monkeys and humans that do.
"Understanding the relative differences will likely help us pick out new targets for drug and vaccine development," said Johnson, who studies AIDS.
The research could also tell us how AIDS landed in humans. "The origins of HIV in humans might go like this: monkey to chimp to human," he said.
The World Health Organization has details on efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine.
SOURCES: Beatrice Hahn, M.D., professor, departments of medicine and microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Philip R. Johnson, M.D., chief scientific officer, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and professor, pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia; July 23, 2009, Nature
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