Cats Might Help Scientists to Make HIV Vaccine

The new study shows that cats may be the key to an HIV vaccine.

Researchers studying the feline version of AIDS came across a tantalizing discovery: when they exposed a protein from the cat virus to the blood of HIV-positive humans, it triggered an immune response in the blood. Photo: nerdmeister®/ Flickr

Dogs may be man’s best friend, and numerous studies prove that dogs can benefit human health, by sniffing out cancer, for example. However, it looks like cats could save millions of people! Researchers discovered that cats could be the key to a successful human HIV vaccine.

Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of California, San Francisco, have discovered that blood from patients infected with HIV shows an immune response against a feline AIDS virus protein.

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the retrovirus) that causes AIDS, or the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS causes a progressive failure of the immune system, ultimately leading to death.

Neither HIV nor AIDS are curable. However, both can be controlled with a strict regime of medications. Previous attempts at creating a human HIV vaccine had been unsuccessful.

Their findings appear in the October issue of the Journal of Virology. This discovery supports further exploration of a human AIDS vaccine derived from regions of the feline AIDS virus.

“One major reason why there has been no successful HIV vaccine to date is that we do not know which parts of HIV to combine to produce the most effective vaccine,” says Janet Yamamoto, a professor of retroviral immunology at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the study’s corresponding author.

The researchers say they are working on a T cell-based HIV vaccine that is able to activate an immune response in T cells from individuals against the feline acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus.

T peptides are small pieces of protein that are crucial in this process, as they trigger the body’s T cells to distinguish viral peptides on infected cells and attack them, says Medical News Today.

“In humans, some peptides stimulate immune responses, which either enhance HIV infection or have no effect at all, while others may have anti-HIV activities that are lost when the virus changes or mutates to avoid such immunity. So, we are looking for those viral peptides in the cat AIDS virus that can induce anti-HIV T-cell activities and do not mutate.”

In previous studies, scientists have combined various whole HIV proteins as vaccine ingredients, but none worked well enough to be used as a commercial vaccine, she explained.

“Surprisingly, we have found that certain peptides of the feline AIDS virus can work exceptionally well at producing human T-cells that fight against HIV,” Yamamoto said. T-cells are immune system cells that attack cells infected with viruses.

But the researchers believe that the feline AIDS virus could be used to discover areas of the human AIDS virus, and this could lead to a new vaccine-development strategy for HIV.

“We had difficulty in identifying ways to select regions on HIV-1 for HIV-1 vaccine. Our work shows how to select the viral regions for HIV-1 vaccine. The regions on FIV or their counterpart on HIV-1 that have anti-HIV T cell activities can be used as a component for human HIV-1 vaccine,” says Prof. Yamamoto.

One researcher emphasized that different viruses affect people and cats.

“We want to stress that our findings do not mean that the feline AIDS virus infects humans, but rather that the cat virus resembles the human virus sufficiently so that this cross-reaction can be observed,” study co-author Dr. Jay Levy, a professor of medicine at UCSF, said in the news release.

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