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HIV vaccine shows promise in human trial

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hiv vaccine

An HIV vaccine that has the potential to protect people around the world from the virus has shown promising results.

The treatment, which aims to provide immunity against various strains of the virus, produced an anti-HIV immune system response in tests on 393 people, a study in the Lancet found.

It also protected some monkeys from a virus that is similar to HIV.

More testing is now needed to determine if the immune response produced can prevent HIV infection in people.

About 37 million people worldwide live with HIV or Aids, and there are an estimated 1.8 million new cases every year.

But despite advances in treatment for HIV, both a cure and a vaccine for the virus have so far remained elusive.

The drug Prep, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is effective at preventing HIV infection, but, unlike a vaccine, it needs to be taken regularly, even daily, to prevent the virus from taking hold.

Inventing a vaccine has proved an immense challenge for scientists, in part because there are so many strains of the virus, but also because HIV is adept at mutating to elude attack from our immune systems.

Previous attempts at HIV vaccines have been limited to specific strains of the virus found in certain parts of the world.

But for this “mosaic” vaccine, scientists have developed a treatment made up of pieces of different HIV viruses.

The hope is that it could offer much better protection against the almost unlimited number of HIV strains found across the world.

In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, scientists tested various combinations of the mosaic vaccine in people aged 18 to 50 who did not have HIV and were healthy.

The participants, from the US, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, and Thailand, received four vaccinations over the course of 48 weeks.

All of the vaccine combinations produced an anti-HIV immune system response and were found to be safe.

Scientists also carried out a parallel study where they gave rhesus monkeys the vaccine to protect them from getting simian-human immunodeficiency virus – a virus similar to HIV that infects monkeys.

The mosaic vaccine combination that showed the most promise in humans was found to protect 67% of the 72 monkeys from getting the disease.

“These results represent an important milestone,” said Dan Barouch, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.
However, Prof Barouch also cautioned that the findings needed to be interpreted with caution.

Though the vaccine triggered a response in the immune system of the people who took it, it is not clear if this would be enough to fight off the virus and prevent infection.

“The challenges in the development of an HIV vaccine are unprecedented, and the ability to induce HIV-specific immune responses does not necessarily indicate that a vaccine will protect humans from HIV infection,” he added.

Nevertheless, the promising results of the study mean researchers will next test the treatment on 2,600 women in southern Africa who are at risk of getting the illness – one of only five vaccines to make it to this stage of so-called efficacy trials.

Only one vaccine has ever shown evidence of protection against HIV.

A vaccine tested in Thailand lowered the rate of human infection by 31%, but the effect was considered too low to advance it to common use.

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was early days for the vaccine but the signs were “promising”.

“However, it’s important to be cautious and be clear that there’s a lot of work to do before an effective HIV vaccine is readily available.”

Dr Brady added that in the meantime there were already tools that were effective for preventing the disease from spreading, such as contraception and treatments for HIV-positive people that prevent them from passing on the virus.

BBC

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DIASPORA

Five people killed,189 arrested so far in Johannesburg violence

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Johannesburg Xenophobic Violence

Five people have been killed and 189 arrested in a spate of Johannesburg xenophobic violence that has rocked parts of the city since Sunday, police confirmed on Tuesday.

The five deaths have led to police deploying more police officers in areas identified as hot spots.

The latest killings were of two South Africans who were shot in Coronationville on Tuesday afternoon.

“Police have increased deployments to cover all the areas identified as hot spots of violence that have seen several shops being looted, burned and the property being looted,” said police spokesperson Col Lungelo Dlamini.

He said the situation had been stabilised in parts of the Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg Central, Jeppestown and Cleveland policing areas.

This was, however, not the case in Coronationville, as violent clashes continued and claimed the lives of two South Africans on Tuesday.

The clashes forced Gauteng premier David Makhura to leave a meeting between police minister Bheki Cele and those affected by the recent violence and rush to the area to call for calm.

Apart from these two murders, two killings were reported in Hillbrow and one near the Jeppe hostel.

Police had, however, made arrests in connection with the outbreaks of violence.

“A total of 189 arrests have been effected since Sunday,” said Dlamini.

Those arrests are facing a raft of charges, ranging from charges which include public violence, malicious damage to property, theft, and business break-ins.

Police said they were forced to fire rubber bullets to disperse a group of people who planned to loot businesses in Thokoza and Kempton Park in the early hours of Tuesday.

Dlamini said the spate of violent incidents led to criminals gangs taking advantage of the chaotic situation and breaking into businesses, not only those belonging to foreign nationals but also other businesses.

A process to identify leaders of the protests was underway.

“In the meantime, police are identifying the leaders of these violent groups and will be arrested them once full evidence against them has been gathered,” said Dlamini.

Gauteng police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela thanked members of the public who provided information to assist the police in dealing with violent situations.

Mawela has also assured the public that no unlawful activities will be tolerated.

“All our members are on the ground to deal with criminality,” he said.TimesLive

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BUSINESS

African leaders boycott WEF Africa over xenophobic attacks in SA

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World Economic Forum on Africa

The presidents of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi have decided not to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa hosted by South Africa in the face of ongoing looting and burning of small businesses in that country, owned largely by African immigrants, local media reported on Wednesday.

The chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat has condemned the attacks, which have seen scores of people arrested in Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

Reports said Zambia had also cancelled a friendly football match with South Africa’s national men’s team Bafana Bafana scheduled for March.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari instructed his foreign affairs minister to summon South Africa’s high commissioner to Nigeria over the violence.

Some South Africans say they are retaliating against crime committed by foreigners and the sale of illicit goods by foreign shop owners, but political analysts say African immigrants have become scapegoats for rising anger over joblessness and general economic woes.

In a statement on Tuesday, the African Union Commission’s Faki called for “immediate steps to protect the lives of people and their property, ensure that all perpetrators are brought to account for their acts and that justice is done to those who suffered economic and other losses.”

“The chairperson reiterates the African Union’s Commission continued commitment to support the South African government in addressing the root causes that led to these despicable acts, in order to promote peace and stability, within the framework of the African Union’s longstanding principles of continental solidarity,” his spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said. African News Agency

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CRIME

FBI takes down Nigerian fraudsters in $46M case

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Nigerian fraudsters

The relationship between a Japanese woman and a U.S. Army captain stationed in Syria started online, through an international social network for digital pen pals. It grew into an internet romance over 10 months of daily emails.

It ended with the woman $200,000 poorer and on the verge of bankruptcy after borrowing money from her sister, ex-husband and friends to help Capt. Terry Garcia with his plan to smuggle diamonds out of Syria.

In reality, there were no diamonds and there was no Garcia — they were part of an elaborate scam hatched by an international ring of cyber thieves operating mainly out of Los Angeles and Nigeria.

Federal authorities cited the case of the Japanese woman, known only as “F.K.” in court papers, on Thursday when they announced an indictment charging 80 people with stealing at least $46 million through various schemes that targeted businesses, the elderly and anyone susceptible to a romance scam. Most of the defendants are Nigerian fraudsters.

“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told a news conference. “We are taking a major step to disrupt these criminal networks.”

The investigation began in 2016 with a single bank account and one victim, said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. It grew to encompass victims who were targeted in the U.S. and around the world, some of whom like the Japanese woman lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“F.K. was and is extremely depressed and angry about these losses,” the federal complaint states. “She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her.”

Her relationship began innocently in March 2016 with an email but soon “Garcia” made “romantic overtures,” according to federal authorities. He told her they couldn’t talk by phone because he wasn’t allowed to use one in Syria.

So a stream of emails went back and worth, with her using Google to translate his English into her Japanese. A month into the relationship, Garcia told her he’d found a bag of diamonds in Syria and he began introducing her to his associates, starting with a Red Cross representative who told her Garcia had been injured but had given him the box.

F.K. ultimately made 35 to 40 payments, receiving as many as 10 to 15 emails a day directing her to send money to accounts in the U.S., Turkey and the United Kingdom through the captain’s many purported associates.

The Nigerian fraudsters even threatened her with arrest if she did not continue to pay and at one point she travelled to Los Angeles because she was told a Russian bank manager had embezzled more than $33,000 of her funds.

Authorities arrested 14 defendants Thursday, mostly in the Los Angeles area. FBI agents could be seen processing suspects in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot before they were arraigned in federal court. It was not immediately known if they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

Two suspects were previously in custody and a few others were arrested earlier this week. Hanna said he hoped to be able to work with foreign governments to extradite the remaining Nigerian fraudsters.

They all face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft, and some are charged with additional offences for alleged fraud and money laundering.AOL

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