French researchers set for HIV vaccine trials using dendritic cells

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T-cell.
Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T-cell. © Credit: NIAID. License: CC BY 2.0.

In a world first for vaccines, researchers at France's Vaccine Research Institute have completed experiments that target essential cells for combating HIV/Aids and stimulate dendritic cells, the so-called sentinels of our immune system. Clinical trials are set to begin within weeks. 


The process works by launching the vaccine directly at the cells as a kind of rocket, which produces antibodies that then attach themselves to fragments of HIV, France Info reported on Friday.

“Firstly, we target the good cells, then we go after the pieces of virus, in this case the envelope of HIV which allows it to enter the body,” explains Prof Yves Levy, director for this project.

“Next we stimulate the dendritic cells, therefore the immunity. Finally, as we have targeted the good elements of good cells, we don’t need a vast quantity of the vaccine,” Levy adds.

Dendritic cells are named as such because of their plant like or tree shape form. They’re responsible for kick starting immune responses that adapt and change according to the threat.

In a HIV infection, the dendritic cells are crucial because they affect the viral transmission, and they can help modulate an antiviral response.

Clinical trials to start in April

There’s three phases of clinical before commercialisation. Phase one starts with volunteers to see whether the vaccine is well tolerated by the body, and produces immunity, according to report from the French public media.

The French laboratory put out a call for volunteers on 25 February for a study in partnership with the French National Agency for Research on AIDS (ANRS) and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).

Yves Lévy, French physician researcher and professor of clinical immunology.
Yves Lévy, French physician researcher and professor of clinical immunology. © Photo: Vaccine Research Institute

They’re looking for 72 people to test their candidate vaccine. The researchers are also in the middle of preparing vaccines against variants of Covid-19 using the same research model.

Antibodies charged with materials from the South Africa variant and English variant launched at dendritic cells to excite an immune response.

Hope in the fight against HIV

The last attempt for a preventative vaccine against HIV dates from 2009, but according to the professor of clinical immunology Levy, its efficacy was only 30 percent.

Producing a vaccine for HIV, or treatment for Aids, of course remains the "holy grail" for medical science, helping those suffering from the virus.

It may take years for someone contracting HIV before it weakens the immune system. There is currently no effective cure.

In France, around 170,000 people are infected with HIV. Some 25,000 are thought to be unaware they’re carrying the virus and continue to propagate the epidemic. Around 6,200 new cases are found per year.

Antiretroviral drug treatments help slow the progression of HIV and have been a game-changer in the fight against HIV-Aids.

They help give people a quality of life for those tested positive. But antiretrovirals do not cure victims of the disease, and scientists remain hopeful that multiple efforts to prevent HIV will help treat people.

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