With HIV and AIDS spreading rapidly both in places close to home and far away, an HIV vaccine may be the premier challenge for this generation of researchers; unfortunately, several trials have just ended with no success, sending many back to square one in the search for a vaccine.
However, researchers are far from giving up, and funding is not lacking for continuing searches. Although a vaccine may not be possible in the near future, researchers are testing using some of the currently effective drugs, such as antiretrovirals, in new combinations or giving them to people (especially healthcare workers, who are the most at risk) prior to exposure.
Right now, for example, at least seven trials are looking at an approach called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which tests whether antiretrovirals tenofovir (with or without fellow antiretroviral emtricitabine) can prevent patients from contracting the disease through sex or injection-drug use.
Researchers are also taking a hard look a strategy known "combination prevention" that not only can block acquisition of the virus, but sometimes lowers the odds of transmission by lowering a patient's viral load. It involves both PrEP and increasing access to care, expanding availability of safer-sex tools and other measures.
Meanwhile, some researchers continue to work on understanding why some HIV-infected people never get sick, suggesting that a better understanding of this phenomenon might help scientists eventually discover a a vaccine.
To learn more about these efforts:
- Read this AMNews piece