Despite huge advances in HIV treatment and prevention, new infections continue throughout the world. In the United States, underserved patient populations are even seeing increases in new infections and deaths.
Why a Vaccine
We will not end the HIV epidemic without an effective vaccine.
The world’s greatest infectious disease threats have been addressed using vaccines. Vaccines reduce the spread of infectious viruses by preventing infection in the vaccinated person, which also greatly reduces transmission to others. Most vaccines are designed to protect against a disease over a lifetime.
Creating a vaccine to prevent HIV continues to be the goal, and represents the best chance to end the HIV epidemic.
HIV is a complex virus that is constantly mutating and can hide within the human body. It attacks the body’s immune system—unlike viruses like Hepatitis that attach to organs—which makes creating a vaccine more difficult.
Scientists are still discovering the right antibodies and killer T-cells needed to create an effective vaccine, as well as the amount required to produce long-lasting protection.
“While many are focusing their research in other areas, thinking HIV has been taken care of, we at Emory Vaccine Center will not stop until we have a cure.”
Rafi Ahmed, PhD
Director, Emory Vaccine Center
The Emory Vaccine Center (EVC) takes pride in its collaborative approach to scientific investigation. Our center brings together basic scientists and clinical investigators who are dedicated to finding a way to prevent and cure HIV. For simplification, we break the HIV research into two categories: prevention and cure.
More than 100 EVC scientists are working on HIV research. Each researcher brings a different approach and perspective that helps create innovative ideas.
Because HIV is complex and mutates, scientists have not found antibodies broad enough to fight all of HIV. Our B-cells remember what we have been exposed to and our antibodies fight off the infection. The difficulty with HIV is that antibodies are not specialized enough to effectively fight the virus in all of its mutations in different patient populations.
Current EVC research suggests that an effective vaccine may come from identifying the right broadly neutralizing antibodies while boosting killer T-cells, as sort of a right and left jab to the virus. This will create longer-lasting protection than just one approach alone.
Emory is an international leader in PD-1 research. PD-1 is a protein that acts as a brake in our immune system, causing the body to stop fighting infections. EVC researchers have found a way to block the PD-1 molecule so that the body will continue fighting off infectious agents.
The Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center conducts human trials of HIV vaccines and engages in HIV advocacy and awareness in metro Atlanta. Their recruitment and community outreach team informs the Atlanta community, including health care and social service providers, about ongoing and upcoming research studies and findings from completed studies.
EVC’s other outreach activities include two charity bike rides: the AIDS Vaccine 200 in Atlanta and Charity Treks in New England. For nearly two decades, these volunteer organizations—in partnership with Emory and local businesses and organizations—have organized these exciting annual events, which have raised more than $3.5 million for AIDS vaccine research.