Osborn Club discusses the need for HIV-1 vaccine

Alli Kolick

Dr. Michael Cho addressed the Osborn Club on Monday night to speak about the need for a vaccine against HIV-1.

After nearly three decades since the discovery of HIV-1, the medical research field has been focused on developing a vaccine or a cure. The lecture was held in the Molecular Biology Building to present research on a developing vaccine based on the Membrane-Proximal External Region, or MPER, of gp41 subunit of HIV-1.

Cho, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, presented the information explaining in detail the way the HIV-1 virus works and why the medical community is having issues developing a vaccine and cure.

The AIDS pandemic has been active for the last 30 years and has infected around 33.3 million people worldwide, as of 2009. There are approximately 2.6 million new infections each year and 1.8 million deaths.

Cho’s research at Center for Advanced Host Defenses, Immunobiotics, and Translocational Comparitive (CAHDIT) Comparative Medicine, have focused on MPERs of gp41 subunit of HIV-1 when developing a vaccine.

There have been many attempts in the past to create antigens, but all have failed because they were insoluble, antigens were too large, too small, or too flexible. This is because the virus protein is constantly adapting to the body’s antibodies.

“[It is a] chameleon because it can change to adapt, and a porcupine because it has a good defense,” said Cho about the function of the HIV-1 protein. “You want to have antibodies that are already there.”

Cho’s believes that the antigens must be structurally rigid and must be devoid of immunodominant epitopes, which are all features of the lab’s prototype.

Currently there are pharmaceutical drugs that help keep the illness under control; however, they are in no way a cure to HIV-1 or AIDS.

“Many antiviral drugs are quite effective” said Cho. “[But] ART is not a cure.”

ART, or antiretroviral therapy, provides limited efficacy, comes at a high cost and must be taken over long duration on a stringent regimen.

“This is why we need a vaccine,” Cho said.