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Canaries may hold clue to AIDS treatment

New vaccine shows promise

Jeff Levine

February 12, 1996
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Jennifer Kuhn is one of a few hundred healthy volunteers whose efforts might change the course of the AIDS epidemic. She is participating in a test of an experimental AIDS vaccine.


" are so need to do something"

Jennifer Kuhn
(119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)

The vaccine is made from a virus that infects canaries but isn't dangerous to people. It is combined with several genetically purified proteins from the AIDS virus, which researchers say will boost immunity without causing disease.


So far, the results have been encouraging. The vaccine increased the number of highly potent, so-called killer T-cells in about half the volunteers. But, researchers say the vaccine will not prevent infection.

"What we're hoping is that it would eliminate the virus very quickly, so a person would recover completely from infection," said Dr. Mary Lou Clements of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Clements says the canary pox vaccine primes the immune system for a booster shot that adds another layer of protection.

"This vaccine, when combined with the second vaccine, induces all of the type of immunity that we're able to measure," she said.


Scientists have been searching for an effective vaccine for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, since the beginning of the epidemic.

But the task is particularly daunting because the disease targets the body's immune system, which ordinarily is the source of protection against infection.

"Clearly, although it's very complicated, there are situations where the body can effectively control the replication of HIV," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an AIDS researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

If a vaccine is developed, Fauci believes it will be given to those who are most at risk for contracting AIDS. (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

In an effort to level the playing field among competing drug companies, NIH is setting the scientific ground rules. The hope is to spend limited research dollars where they will be most effective, so only the most promising efforts prevail. The canary pox vaccine is considered to be a promising candidate.

Even with these preliminary successes, experts agree that perfecting an AIDS vaccine is still years away. Many more tests will be needed, and that could stretch the process to beyond 2000.



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