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Italian AIDS vaccine 'working'

Research chief Ensoli 'thrilled' by results

13 December, 12:24
Italian AIDS vaccine 'working'

(ANSA) - Rome - A ground-breaking Italian AIDS vaccine appears to be working, researchers have said.

"We have seen the vaccine reach parts where drugs cannot go," said lead researcher Barabara Ensoli of the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

It was "thrilling" to see the results, which have been published in the Plos One journal, she said.

"The vaccine seems to bring the immune system back into kilter". Testing is currently at the second stage and should be completed "with another 160 patients," Ensoli said.

"Even so, we decided to publish now because we have achieved statistically significant results very quickly," said the researcher, who has been working on the vaccine for 10 years.

Ensoli noted that 48 weeks after the vaccine was given to the volunteers, "their parameters are still improving and it appears we have managed to stop the damage".

ISS Chair Enrico Garaci said the results "corroborate our efforts" and "confirm our model of research, from the lab bench to the patient's bed".

He made an appeal to private and public bodies for funding to complete the current round of tests.

The second stage of testing began in late 2008 in ten centres across Italy with 128 HIV-positive people between the ages of 18 and 55, both men and women.

In 2006 Ensoli ended the first phase of research and reported that her AIDS vaccine had passed its initial tests with flying colours.

She said all the Italian volunteers had shown a ''100% response to the vaccine by producing specific antibodies''.

Ensoli's vaccine is considered ground-breaking because it adopts a new approach to fighting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Traditional vaccines seek to bolster the immune system, the aim being to boost the body's ability to fight off the disease.

This approach, however, has been relatively unsuccessful against HIV, a virus good at mutating and reviving itself.

Ensoli's 'tat-protein' vaccine, on the other hand, attempts to block the spread of the infection and prevent the reproduction of infected cells.

Ensoli believes the HIV virus needs tat-proteins to be able to take root and spread.

By targeting tat-proteins her treatment might be effective against all strains of HIV.

Results from studies of the vaccine on laboratory animals have shown the treatment could be a vital step forward in the fight against AIDS.

The vaccine - described by eminent oncologist and former health minister Umberto Veronesi as ''intelligent'' - received the green light for human testing in 2003.

Ensoli's technique is not without its critics, however.

In August 2007 the American magazine Science reported that Ensoli had filed a suit against prominent immunologist Ferdinando Auiti accusing him of slander and seeking to tarnish her reputation.

Aiuti, Science wrote, had repeatedly cited ''critical errors'' in the first experimental stages of Ensoli's vaccine.

Aiuti said he was ''surprised'' about the suit, adding that he had ''nothing personal'' against Ensoli and that he had not changed his opinion on her experimental vaccine.