the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discusses prospects for an AIDS vaccine. He says while the ultimate goal is prevention, much like that for polio, smallpox and measles, combating the AIDS virus requires a non-traditional strategy in which a vaccine may not totally block infection, but could lower the level of virus and slow down transmission.
Fauci says these interim vaccines would work in tandem with the two-dozen or so antiviral therapies currently available.
The hope is that an effective human T-cell vaccine could substantially improve the quality of life for people who contract the virus after immunisation by postponing the day when they develop HIV and Aids and have to begin treatment with a daily cocktail of drugs.
Anthony Fauci says the success of the disease-modifying vaccines could be a major advance in the development of an AIDS vaccine. About 40 million people are HIV-positive and another 11 000 people contract the virus every day, most of them in the world's poorest nations.
The ability of HIV to mutate rapidly remains one of the biggest obstacles to a successful vaccine. The DNA sequences of HIV particles in a single person can be as diverse as those of all the influenza viruses in the world. A vaccine that produces an immune response against one HIV sequence may have no effect on other strains.
Various attempts are made, like the current trials, but each with its own problems. Experts concede that a fully effective AIDS vaccine is a long way off. "There are people who will tell you we will never have a vaccineI can't say those people are wrong," says infectious disease specialist Scott Hammer of Columbia University.
But "you shouldn't be in this business if you don't have some degree of optimism based on the science. The world needs an AIDS vaccine. To give up now is selling the science short."
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