Dr. Louis Picker, who is in the forefront of developing a vaccine to prevent HIV, has discovered where and how the virus hides, which is an important step beyond vaccines to finding a cure, according to OregonLive.com. Dr. Picker is associate director of OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, and is one of the top researchers internationally into an HIV vaccine. In 2013, he said his team had created an anti-HIV vaccine that was given to monkeys, and the monkeys still remain free of the virus.
To go beyond a vaccine to developing a cure, Dr. Picker said a more challenging job is targeting the virus where it hides; “The first thing we need to do in a cure is figure out what the barriers are. You peel back the onion until you get a good map of your enemy.” Killing the virus after someone has already been infected is more difficult than prevention, “It is going to be a much bigger deal, ” said Dr. Picker, “It’s 100, 000 fold bigger.” A cure would potentially save lives of 35 million people globally who are infected with HIV.
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In Dr. Picker’s work with the simian virus, the primate equivalent of human HIV, he found that the virus finds a kind of “sanctuary” in B cell follicles which are in the lymph nodes and the spleen. These places cannot be accessed by regular T cells, which are the foot soldiers, so to speak, of the immune system. If the vaccine or a potential cure is going to work, this sanctuary has to be lifted, and the T cells need to be able to fight the virus wherever it is located in the body. One method would be to eliminate the B cells, but Dr. Picker said this is a drastic solution. However, it is often done in cancer treatment. Dr. Picker said, “I think we can come up with a more subtle treatment than that, ” and thinks in another three or four years, he should reach his goal of a vaccine and treatment.