Interesting article. Long.
It’s more a feature piece about one of the women than it is an article about the immunity phenomenon.
We’ve long known about people who either don’t become infected with HIV or who do but then don’t progress to immune system compromise.
If memory serves, this group of African women share a mutation that causes the massive killer T cell response that prevents seroconversion. (See how I’m using the term seroconversion now for technical precision?)
I believe that two other mutations are known to exist in other human population pools that also either prevent or often prevent seroconversion.
Three vaccine trials are either pending or in progress in various stages right now. The most promising one is based on knowledge gained from studying this group of African women.
None of the vaccines, however, are designed to prompt complete immunity from HIV. Researchers would be very pleased with just a 30% immunity rate.
That’s not what we typically think of as effective when it comes to vaccines, but virologists don’t see a practical route to full immunity right now, and epidemiologists tell us that 30% would be enough to knock the virus out for the count, given how fragile it already is in terms of transmission ability.
Treatment to viral eradication would potentially be even more effective than a vaccine, as it could eventually eliminate the infectious agent pool.
That sort of treatment is a theoretical possibility. Virologists are working on it every day, but not based on people with vigorous killer T cell responses like this group of women in Africa.
It’s possible that we’ll see both — a vaccine with partial efficacy and treatment to erradication with partial efficacy.
What we have now — treatment to full suppression — is technically enough to eliminate HIV from human circulation. The trouble is that it’s ridiculously expensive, too expensive to be truly useful in a region where 26 million people have HIV.
The cost of dosing 26 million people daily with ARVs is prohibitive, even overlooking that testing and identifying all those people is technically and humanly daunting.
Bill and Melinda are giving it their best shot, and they’re having some success. Rates of new HIV infections in southern and eastern Africa starting trending downward for the first time 3 or 4 years ago.
But not even the Gates have enough money or can attract enough money to do everything that needs to happen right now.
A partially effective vaccine would turn the tide much faster.
And if we get one, it’ll probably be thanks to studying these women who should be infected with HIV but aren’t.