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The vaccine, whose success at blocking infection was described by its own designers as ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’, appears to work by stimulating the production of a previously unknown group of CD8 T-cells that stopped the monkeys’ CD4 cells from recognising SIV as a foreign invader, thereby preventing an immune response to SIV. This suppressant effect - which works in the opposite way to a traditional vaccine - means that the SIV is deprived of the SIV-specific immune-activated CD4 cells it needs in order to proliferate and establish an infection in the body.
So far 15 of the 29 monkeys have been completely protected from SIV infection. The effect appears to last; the last challenge was three years after infection and vaccinated monkeys’ immune system shows ability to suppress viral reproduction four years after vaccination.
Two initial safety trials are now planned in humans. In one, HIV-negative volunteers at low risk of HIV will be given the vaccine to see if it stimulates the same immune- and virus-suppressant responses. In the other, HIV-positive volunteers on fully-suppressive antiviral therapy will be given the vaccine and then taken off ART six months later if test tube results suggest the vaccine has produced such responses.
a simple pro-biotic prep should induce such an intense immune-suppressant response. What does this mean for future immunosuppressive research?