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An HIV vaccine has been years in the works, in animal models and in the lab.

Testing in humans is now underway, with enrollment for the much-awaited immunogen beginning this month, according to a team led by the scientist who first identified the virus as the cause of AIDS more than 30 years ago.

The goal is to prevent the infection totally.

“Our HIV/AIDS vaccines candidate is designed to bind to the virus at the moment of infection, when many of the different strains of HIV found around the world can be neutralized,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology in Maryland, in an announcement last week. “We believe this mechanism is a major prerequisite for an effective HIV preventive vaccine.”

The “Full-Length Single Chain,” or FLSC vaccine, is aiming to induce wide antibody response to the HIV – even the overlooked regions exposed when the virus attaches to human cells to attack, they said.

The work is still not complete, however. Gallo wrote in an op-ed in The Huffington Post last year explaining that HIV has proven to be a much more difficult target than other viruses.

Five huge trials had proven unsuccessful in the past; a sixth, run by the U.S. military, showed some limited success in the first few months in 2009, Gallo wrote. The challenge is that the virus irreversibly infects a person within just a few short days – and that it is constantly changing, he explained.

“No one expected to have an effective vaccine out of the gate,” Gallo wrote. “In fact, developing an effective HIV preventive vaccine has turned out to be a huge, complex challenge.”

The new FLSC vaccine is the best effort yet to try and push back against the epidemic – which continues to ravage parts of the developing world, Gallo said in the latest announcement.

“While we still have more important basic research to do to crack the antibody protection challenge, this first step is an important one for us to learn how people (rather than test animals) respond,” Gallo added.

Gallo first connected HIV to the then-mysterious AIDS epidemic in 1984, during his work with various retroviruses and cancers.

 

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