HIV is one of the worst epidemics in human history, and has had a devastating impact on populations worldwide. Our HIV podcasts describe the leading efforts by NDM researchers to develop new treatments and possible vaccines for HIV, as well as to understand and prevent its transmission, to help reduce the global HIV disease burden and improve outcomes for patients worldwide.
It is increasingly apparent that highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may not be the long-term solution to the management of HIV infection, and that other avenues need to be explored. As a result of various recent cases, the idea of eradicating HIV altogether is becoming less unimaginable to some scientists.
There are currently around 91,000 people in the UK living with HIV/AIDS. HIV is a challenging target because it can mutate its genetic makeup. We are trying to deal with this by developing a vaccine which focuses the immune response on parts of HIV that it cannot change easily without weakening itself.
Although we know a lot more about HIV, the infection keeps spreading and there is a real need for a vaccine. Various strategies are investigated: either prevent the infection by stimulating really good antibodies, or control it by harnessing the cellular immune response that could prevent the disease.
HIV behaves very differently in children and in adults: while most adults are able to control the virus after infection, children often struggle to do so resulting in an extremely high mortality rate. Research is carried out with the few that do survive childhood in order to study the differences in immune responses and to find out how to best treat them.
Big challenges face the development of an HIV vaccine, including the enormous HIV variation. Professor Hanke focusses on the most conserved regions of the HIV-1 proteome, and also works on the development of a vaccine both for adults and against mother-to-child transmission. The ultimate goal is to create an effective universal HIV vaccine.
The earliest interactions between HIV and host immune responses have been shown to be critical determinants of the subsequent disease course. Innate responses can be activated very rapidly after infection to contain early pathogen replication and induce the adaptive response. Modulation of innate responses could complement existing HIV vaccine strategies.