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AIDS Awareness Month

December 1, 2011

AIDS Awareness Ribbon

December is AIDS Awareness Month. It has been more than 30 years since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began. An estimated 33.3 million individuals are infected with HIV worldwide. In the United States, more than 1.5 million people are living with HIV, according to a 2010 report issued by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

While great strides in prevention and treatment have been made, much work remains to be done. Currently, Drexel University College of Medicine researchers are involved in a number of studies that may lead to enhanced prevention and care for HIV patients. Every week through the month of December, a new research study will be highlighted to showcase the important contributions Drexel University College of Medicine faculty are making to AIDS research.

Developing a Therapeutic Vaccine

One study from the lab of Jeffrey Jacobson, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases & HIV Medicine, involves the development of a therapeutic vaccine to control HIV in already infected individuals. Since HIV mutates very readily to evade the body's immune response, each individual has slightly different quasispecies, or strains, of HIV. Therefore, the vaccine would have to be personalized for the individual, according to Jacobson, who is the principal investigator.

To create the vaccine, a sample of the virus is taken from the infected individual's own blood before HIV drugs are started. Investigators then take the RNA of the person's virus, load it into the person's own immune cells and give it back as a vaccine to try to stimulate a new, more potent response against HIV. The ultimate goal of this research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a "functional cure" of the infection – that is, control of HIV without the need for any HIV medications.

Jacobson also has NIH funding to study a long-acting injectable anti-HIV antibody as an alternative treatment for HIV-infected patients who have demonstrated an inability to adhere to the rigors of taking daily oral anti-HIV medications.