Posted: October 21st, 2009 | By Claire Keeton

Young scientists around their world are finding clues to crack the puzzle of what it will take to make an effective HIV vaccine.

Speaking at the AIDS Vaccine 2009 conference in Paris this afternoon they reported on pioneering work, most of which revolved around a type of cells known as denditric cells. 

*Mathias Lichterfeld from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, explained: “Denditric cells are like the conductors of a concert. They are what get effector cells working: they prime T-cell (cellular) response and B-cell (antibody) responses.”

Elite controllers – a rare group of people who have HIV but keep it under control – have extremely effective denditric cells compared to other people with HIV or those who are HIV negative, his work has shown. “Manipulating denditric cells is an important element to any (HIV) vaccine,” he said.

*Jacques Bancherau from INSERM/Center for Human Vaccines in Texas, US, said his team was working on targeting and manipulating denditric cells, which he has been researching among cancer patients for 10 years.

“ One year ago we started injecting them into HIV patients and we have found this is safe. We need a proof of concept study on whether there is a future in manipulating these cells.”

He said if this proved to effective, it would be a “new methodology for HIV vaccine” that could be done anywhere off the shelf.

*Michael Liu from Oxford University said he was researching what happens to the T-cell response among patients very early on when they are infected.  “We have found that T-cells have an effect on the virus in the early stages but that the virus can escape easily.”

*Sylvie le Gall from Harvard Medical School said her team was working on how the immune cells could improve their recognition of infected cells – research that could benefit the immune design of a vaccine candidate.

“We want to improve immune design. We want to improve the presentation of epitopes (a part of the virus surface that the body’s immune system targets for destruction) to evoke strong immune protection and to avoid epitopes that are useless.”

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