Will cats provide the answer to a vaccine for HIV/AIDS?
Janet Yamamoto, PhD, professor of retroviral immunology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, discovered FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) in 1986 when she was a researcher at the University of California, Davis.
Her study was published in The Journal of Virology September, 2013.
Now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the discovery has been made that sets the stage for an HIV vaccine made from peptides (portions of proteins) from FIV. Previous HIV vaccines were made from various whole HIV proteins. None worked well enough to be utilized as a commercial vaccine.
After spending thirty years studying Retroviridae, the family of reverse-transcriptase viruses that includes HIV, FIV and SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), this is yet another groundbreaking accomplishment for Dr. Yamamoto. (She wants to be clear that neither the feline nor the simian virus infects humans.)
Previous vaccines imitated influenza vaccines, seeking to stimulate an antibody response from the immune system. The new vaccine will cause the immune system to produce specialized lymphocytes called “T-cells.” By using a specific portion of the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus’ DNA, T-cells are inspired to kill only cells infected by HIV. Normal cells are spared.
Just as importantly, the portion of the virus’ peptides that caused the protective response is a part that doesn’t mutate, or change. Previous attempts at HIV vaccines encountered that problem, also. If a virus can mutate sufficiently, it can escape the immune system and continue to inflict harm.
A BONUS EFFECT
“Cats will have a good second-generation vaccine [for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus],” Yamamoto adds. Research protocols dictate that human trials be preceded by testing in two species. The next step is testing in monkeys, who are subject to Simian Immunodeficiency Virus.
Yamamoto is incredibly humble. Obtaining HIV vaccine from a cat disease, she says, is intuitive, like making smallpox vaccine from cowpox virus of cattle. “I discover things by thinking simply.”
At the same time, her goals are lofty. She anticipates human trials in about five years. She expects to retire in seven years. “I discovered FIV and the first vaccine,” Yamamoto says. “Let me finish it up.”
See you next week, and Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Randolph.