HIV/Aids

Updated 07 October 2013

Aids virus in cats boosts human vaccine efforts

Cats may hold a key to developing an HIV vaccine for people, a new study suggests.

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Researchers found that a protein from the virus that causes Aids in cats triggered an immune response in blood from HIV-infected people. The virus that causes Aids in people is called the human immunodeficiency virus while the one that affects cats is called the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The findings, reported in the Journal of Virology suggest that further research with FIV could lead to an HIV vaccine for people, the University of Florida and University of California, San Francisco investigators said.

"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," study corresponding author Janet Yamamoto, a professor of retroviral immunology at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, said.

What the researchers found

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.

The FIV protein that triggered the human T-cell response is present in multiple HIV-like viruses in different animal species, she said. By studying FIV, the researchers believe that it may be possible to identify regions of HIV that might prove useful targets for a vaccine.

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.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV/AIDS.

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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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