HIV Vaccine Tests on Non-Human Primates Spark Debate

HIV vaccineThe immunodeficiency virus, or IV, only affects primates.  However, some species of primates have the ability to live with IV without progressing to AIDS-like illness like those experienced by rhesus macaques and humans.  This is the reason why researchers at this year’s international AIDS Vaccine Conference are debating whether or not should clinical trials for an AIDS vaccine be conducted on macaques.

People who approve of the idea said that the simian immunodeficiency virus infection in macaques accurately mirrors the course of HIV infection in human.  If these primates have no response to an experimental vaccine, it is unlikely that humans would respond either. 

"Monkey serve as a reasonable tool to predict immunogenicity (measuring their immune response)," said Dr. Paul Johnson of Harvard Medical School’s Primate Research Center.  He also added that animal model testing is "an important screening tool" that could save millions of dollars.

The opposing side, meanwhile, contend that the proposal of "non-human primates as gatekeepers" would only delay the process of testing vaccines in people.  AIDS vaccine tests have been conducted on lab rats and human volunteers.

"We used humans quickly as far as we could," said David Weiner of University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine.  Weiner has helped develop vaccines against the rotavirus, cholera, and malaria.

He also made the point that macaques were an "imperfect model" for humans, especially in physiology and gut flora (the microorganisms living in the digestive tract) where the HIV "hibernates" during its dormancy. 

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