Researchers use fight against COVID to help with development of HIV vaccine

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Posted at 5:12 PM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 19:23:43-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Many infectious disease doctors that worked to create a vaccine against COVID-19 are now in the process of creating an HIV vaccine.

Since 1987, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has joined other research sites around the country in the search for a vaccine to prevent HIV.

In 1999, Vanderbilt joined an international collaboration called the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As part of HVTN, Vanderbilt collaborates with sites around the world to find a preventative HIV vaccine.

So far, many treatments help those infected live longer lives but doctors say more are still at risk. Following the success of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, doctors are hoping the technology could help with the battle against HIV.

"We've learned a lot of things from the COVID pandemic," said Dr. Spyros Kalams, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt, and lead of the HIV vaccine trials.

At the peak of the pandemic, Vanderbilt's HIV Vaccine Trials Unit had to switch its attention and help create a COVID vaccine.

With that accomplished, they're hoping to use what they learned there to create an HIV vaccine.

"We're still very happy with the results and showing the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine was great, but of course, we still don't have an HIV vaccine. So we are continuing to work on that," Kalams said.

According to the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, about 38 million people worldwide are now living with HIV. Since the start of the epidemic, over 35 million people have died of AIDS, with roughly 680,000 new deaths each year.

Vanderbilt's HIV Vaccine Clinical Research site is holding several clinical trials in efforts to prevent the spread of this virus.

"We're at the stage now where some of these mRNA vaccines have been designed for HIV," Kalams said.

Dr. Kalams says in this lab researchers are working every day to get the world a step closer to an HIV vaccine.

"If those antibodies that people make are able to inhibit HIV in a test tube, can they prevent the virus in the tube from infecting other cells? That's a great first start," he said.

Vanderbilt is looking for healthy, uninfected people between the ages of 18-50 of both genders and all ethnic and racial backgrounds to participate in the studies.

Before you would enter a study, you would attend an education session that explains the study and answers all your questions. Participating in a study is completely voluntary and attending an education session does not obligate you to further participation.