Updated 21 November 2013

Wits scientists make major progress with HIV vaccine

Two local researchers have made major progress into research on an HIV vaccine to prevent infection.


Two local researchers from the Witwatersrand University, Maria Papathanasopoulos and Dr Penny Moore are due to present a lecture on their ongoing research into an HIV vaccine.

According to a report in the Times Live, Papathanasopoulos, a pathology professor, says that their two biggest challenges are finding how to make ‘broadly neutralising antibodies’ and to ensure these antibodies will be able to fight all strains of the virus.

In a country where statistics show that one in 10 people is HIV-positive, this research brings much hope for some form of treatment. 

According to Statistics South Africa 2013 mid-year population estimate the total number of South Africans living with HIV is about 5.26 million.In the age group 15 – 49, the HIV prevalence is 15.9%. Stats SA estimates that 200 000 people will die from Aids-related complications in 2013 and the total number of people living with HIV has gone up by more than a million – from 4 million in 2002, to more than five million in 2013.

Human trials are planned

Moore is a virologist who has already made progress with some ground-breaking research illustrating how the body can change to produce these ‘special antibodies’. She believes that the key is to find a way to show the body, in the form of a vaccine how to create the antibodies .

So far this year Papathanasopoulos has made impressive progress with the use of rabbits who she has injected with the complex protein which scientists have taken more than 30 years to understand. In these experiments with teh rabbits, the protein appears to have stimulated the rabbits’ bodies to produce the ‘broadly neutralising antibodies’ which will hopefully be able to fight all strains of the HI virus.

The next step will include injecting this protein into monkey’s so see the reaction. If this proves successful, the next step will include human trials.

This research has been hailed as groundbreaking and a major step forward in the fight against HIV.

Read the report in the Times Live here.


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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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