CNN Food and Health

Aussie doctors hot on trail of AIDS vaccine

virus November 18, 1995
Web posted at: 5:40 a.m. EST (1040 GMT)

From Correspondent John Raedler

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Among Australia's population of 19 million, five people known as "The Sydney Blood Bank Cohort" are attracting worldwide medical curiosity. One of them contracted HIV in 1981 and inadvertently passed it to others through blood transfusions.

But scientists in Melbourne announced recently that the cohort members have a mutant strain of HIV which lacks the genetic material needed to cause AIDS. "This discovery gives a unique insight into two avenues that can be used to control the HIV epidemic, a vaccine and a chemotherapy avenue," says the director of the Macfarlane Burnet Center, Professor John Mills. (152K AIFF sound or 152K WAV sound)

John Mills

In other words, it holds the possibility of prevention and the possibility of a cure.

Taking a lead from Harvard University research on monkeys, Dr. Nick Deakon found the mutation in the so-called "NEF" and "LTR" regions of the virus' genetic makeup.

gene diagram

The Burnet Center is now backed by a private consortium, which initially is investing 10 million Australian dollars into researching the defective virus. "We think that this is a potentially very important step forward in the vaccine development process and intend to pursue it and are pursuing it very vigorously, but recognize that the obstacles to pursuing it are substantial," Deakon says.

The most likely form of a vaccine, a live attenuated one, would infect recipients for life, which would raise political questions.

Nick Deakon

"That must be discussed because we know that travel in certain countries is prohibited by people who are HIV-infected," Deakon says.

But researchers strongly believe that this strain of the virus will not cause AIDS. "Well, we can never be 100 percent confident, but I think we can be very confident," Deakon says.

While all involved in the research are cautiously optimistic about what their work might lead to, they are confident that it is the most important step to date towards an AIDS vaccine.


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