But if you read last weeks article in The Independent on HIV-1 vaccine research, you might think otherwise.
Here are my answers to The Independents questions. I have the luxury of answering these questions with more than a check mark, but be advised that my answers are tainted with the arrogance of youth, the benefit of hindsight, and obnoxiously high levels of optimism 😛
1. Are you more or less optimistic about the prospects of an HIV vaccine compared to a year ago?
OMG MOAR! This time last year I was so discouraged. This project Im working on for my PhD– it might help lead to an HIV-1 vaccine, and this time last year, I was stuck. But I kept trouble shooting, kept trying this/that/the other, and finally earlier this year I hit several big break-throughs. What Im doing right now is laying the ground work for a logically designed HIV-1 vaccine. I iz happay.
That being said, when I say ‘an HIV-1 vaccine’, I dont mean what you all probably think. I dont mean a traditional vaccine, like polio, where if you get the vaccine, you arent going to get polio except in rare circumstances. I mean a vaccine that can be given to high risk individuals or as a therapy to people already infected. A way to vaccinate against the worst/most transmissable HIVs, so that if you get infected, you wont die from it. I would be happy as a clam if I helped turn HIV into herpes. Sure, it sucks, but it aint gonna kill you.
I do not think a broadly effective HIV-1 vaccine will be possible without some sort of technological revolution.
2. Are you more or less optimistic about the prospects of an HIV vaccine compared to FIVE years ago?
Five years ago, I was a silly little undergrad that thought she wanted to be an MD 😛 n/a
3. Do you agree that we now need to change the direction of HIV vaccine research given the failure of clinical trials so far?
YES (again, remember the arrogant kid/hindsight disclaimer!).
Heres the deal. Remember ‘Independence Day’? Remember how when all the alien spaceships came down and blew stuff up, the military was like “OMG SEND IN THE FIGHTER JETS AND THE NUKES OMGOMG!” and they blow up Houston with a nuke and are no better off than they were before?
Thats kinda like what weve done with HIV-1 vaccines.
Imagine youre a scientist in the 1980s and 90s. Youve got this retrovirus that went from a curiosity to a deadly epidemic overnight. OMG. So they tried to make vaccines by throwing everything and everything at HIV-1 (except fighter jets and nukes). But HIV-1 is, evolutionarily, too smart for that. Our old ways of doing things have failed.
*I* think my lab is on to a good new idea that could lead to an HIV-1 vaccine. Not an OMGOMG vaccine. A logical, evolutionarily designed vaccine.
4. Do you agree with the statement that the money being spent on developing an HIV vaccine would be better spent on education and prevention?
Well, the current clinical trials wouldnt have been funded unless they demonstrated, on many, many levels, that they had something that just might work. We shouldnt stop trying ideas that look promising.
That being said, theres a lot of money going into the garbage bin instead of education and prevention, but thats a President Bush issue, not a scientific issue.
5. Do you agree that an HIV vaccine will be developed within the next TEN years?
No. If, tomorrow, I figured out a potential HIV-1 vaccine, it might take ten years to get to the market for Average Joe/Jane. While that might seem distressing, I would rather have a safe friggen vaccine and miss covering people, then accidentally harming people. In the long term, ten years isnt that bad… which is a horrible thing to say to people who have been dealing with the effect of the HIV-1 epidemic for decades…
The uncut answers from scientists are a better read than the actual article. Theyre all being reasonable and quite right: We need to stop screaming OMGOMG and go back to the basic science. Go back to the basic virology. Go back to the basic immunology. Calm down. Do this logically. Do this right.
We might not be able to vaccinate against every possible HIV-1, but we might be able to do other things that can stop/control this virus.