Okay, there are two potential targets for an HIV-1 vaccine:
1– The envelope protein. Its the only HIV-1 protein that your antibodies can see. Antibodies can prevent the viruses from attaching to your cells.
Your body will react to HIV-1 in this manner ‘naturally’, without a vaccine. The problem is, the ‘natural’ response to HIV infection is reactive– Its always a step behind the mutational capabilities of the virus.
The idea with vaccines is to make your immune response to HIV-1 preventative. Make sure a cytotoxic T-cell is there to kill the first infected cell. Make sure antibodies are circulating in your bloodstream to neutralize the first HIV-1 virus introduced into your body. Stop the infection before it starts.
Well, there have been over 80 clinical trials of HIV-1 vaccines since we first started trying. They have been spectacular failures.
Whats the deal?
Well, its not just about ‘having antibodies there’ or ‘having CTLs there’– its about having the right antibodies and CTLs. Your B-cells (make antibodies) and T-cells go through all kinds of genetic rearranging tricks, and will eventually figure out a good combination, but what if we game the system? What if we dont wait for your body to figure out how to make the ‘perfect’ cytotoxic T-cell? What if we give it the right (a right) answer?
We can do that through genetic engineering.
IF you have a particular MHC I type, in the case of this study, HLA-A*02, we know CTLs respond really well to a specific epitope in gag, ‘SLYNTVATL’. They found T-cells in an infected individual who was controlling HIV-1 really well that responded to that epitope. So they cloned out the T-cell-receptor arrangement, and when they put this TCR gene in new T-cells, the new T-cells responded to HIV-1 infected cells really well.
Theoretically this means we could isolate T-cells from infected individuals, transform them into super-anti-HIV-T-cells (or pimped-up souped-up bionic assassin lethal weapon killer T-Cells, if you will), and that could be an alternative therapy for HIV-1 infected patients. These ASSASSIN CELLS OMFG would go on a killing spree in the infected patient, killing every HIV-1 infected cell they came into contact with.
CURE FOR HIV-1 YEAAAAAAAH!
It gives us hope, and a new avenue to explore.
But we dont know if this will kill all HIV-1 infected cells. We dont know how preventative it is. We dont know what the cancer risks are (new genes into cells can = cancer). And, this therapy, even if it worked reasonably well, is quite impossible in Africa, SE Asia, etc. Places that need the most help.
So pimped-up souped-up bionic assassin lethal weapon killer T-Cells for HIV-1 is a really cool idea, but again, appreciate it as a cool idea and cool science that is contributing to the elimination of HIV-1. Not as a CURE FOR AIDS OMFG!