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$13 million grant puts new herpes-based AIDS vaccine on fast track

In an unlikely twist in the fight against AIDS, scientists have re-engineered a herpes virus stripping most of its DNA and replacing it with small snippets of DNA from the AIDS virus in a bid to create a new type of AIDS vaccine.

Early tests in mice suggest that the new vaccine could help the immune system make more infection-fighting antibodies and killer T-cells than other vaccines, which could make it more effective. The University of Rochester researchers who have pioneered the new approach have been awarded a $13 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to complete the additional testing necessary to move the vaccine into clinical trials.

"We've known for some time that the herpes virus is a very effective vehicle for delivering material into cells," said Howard Federoff, M.D., Ph.D., a University of Rochester scientist who has spent the last decade developing the new vaccine approach. "We've recently been able to harness one of the virus' most useful features, giving us a new tool that appears to have strong potential as an AIDS vaccine."

That feature is a string of DNA, called an amplicon, that causes the virus' DNA to be copied many times over before the virus infects a healthy cell. When Federoff and his colleagues re-engineered the herpes virus for use as a vaccine, they removed most of the herpes DNA and replaced it with snippets of DNA from the AIDS virus. That DNA provided the instructions for making key protein molecules that are found in the AIDS virus.

When the re-engineered herpes virus was injected into mice, healthy cells in the mouse began making those proteins. The immune system, in turn recognizing the proteins as foreign began producing antibodies and killer T-cells to attack and destroy them. Should an HIV infection strike, the researchers hope that those antibodies and killer T-cells would mount an aggressive attack against the infection before it can take hold and cause AIDS
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Contact: Christopher DiFrancesco
chris_difrancesco@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-4790
University of Rochester Medical Center
1-Aug-2003


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