Through the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq highlighted $17 million for five new, innovative research projects dedicated to accelerating the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine.
The five research projects include:
CIHR team grant in HIV vaccine discovery: novel mechanisms and strategies of protection
There is currently no effect vaccine for the prevention of HIV. Nor is there a therapy that can completely cure HIV. The current team grant will combine the expertise of a team of cutting edge immunologists, translational biologists and biochemists at the University of Toronto, with clinical epidemiologists at the University of Nairobi Kenya, to uncover new avenues of research that may lead to an HIV vaccine. In addition, new ideas will be explored that can be used to treat HIV infection with the use of immunotherapies. It is hoped that cross-fertilization of expertise between Kenya and Canada will lead to new discoveries that can be applied to rapidly produce an HIV vaccine.
CHVI Team in Social and Behavioral Research on HIV Vaccines
The CHVI Team in Social and Behavioral Research on HIV Vaccines will launch an expert interdisciplinary social science team in Canada, India and South Africa that will apply rigorous and innovative social research to accelerate the development and dissemination of safe, effective and accessible HIV vaccines. The Team’s research program addresses key challenges in ensuring fully informed consent among HIV vaccine trial participants; and in engaging the preferences and concerns of vulnerable community end users throughout HIV vaccine development in order to bridge the science-to-practice gap. Each year of delay in the development and uptake of HIV vaccines results in up to 2 million new HIV infections, 2,500 in Canada alone, which might otherwise have been averted. The CHVI Team will make a significant contribution to training the next generation of HIV vaccine social and behavioral researchers in Canada, and in South-South partnerships and traineeships in India and South Africa, the two countries with the highest numbers of persons living with HIV in the world.
Innate, Adaptive, and Mucosal Immune Responses in HIV-1 Exposed Uninfected Infants: A Human Model to Understand Correlates of Immune Protection
The transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her infant through breastfeeding is remarkably inefficient. Despite repeated exposure to HIV in the breast milk, the majority of infants who are exclusively breastfed (EBF) do not become infected. Interestingly, infants that are EBF are less likely to be infected by their HIV+ mothers compared to infants who receive other sources of liquid or food in addition to breast milk, despite consuming more HIV infected milk.
To better understand this unusual finding, this project aims to identify factors in breast milk that protect infants from HIV infection and/or inflammatory responses of the infant gut following different feeding practices that may increase susceptibility to HIV infection. The project will also examine the effect of previous immune activation in the infant on immune responses to standard childhood vaccinations.
Understanding modes of natural protection as well as immune activation in the HIV exposed but uninfected infant provides critical information to HIV vaccine development and especially testing in developing countries with high HIV prevalence.
Barriers to engaging young people in HIV vaccine trials in a priority setting
Despite ongoing prevention efforts, HIV incidence in South African youth remains remarkably high. Inclusion of high-risk adolescent populations in vaccine trials will be essential to ensure the success of future efforts, but limited data exist on social, ethical, political, and regulatory barriers to recruit minors into large-scale trials in South Africa.
Biological changes, particularly at mucosal sites, occurring in adolescents may alter their risk of infection and/or complicate immunologic endpoints of vaccine studies, but there is limited data available to address these issues in any population. We have assembled a multi-disciplinary team of social scientists, ethicists, clinicians, and biomedical researchers to examine these questions using existing cohorts of adolescents recruited in Soweto and Durban, South Africa. Results are anticipated to inform social and biomedical aims of future HIV vaccine studies involving minors
The Botswana-Canada AIDS Vaccine Discovery Partnership
The aim of this project is the discovery and characterization of highly potent and broadly neutralizing antibodies that target the HIV virus. The project will use innovative immunologic techniques and cutting edge technologies to search for these rare antibodies in people infected with HIV. It is hoped that these antibodies will allow for a better understanding of the host's ability to mount an immune response that is capable of halting HIV transmission. Such antibodies will provide stepping stones towards the design of novel HIV vaccines and allow the development of an effective HIV vaccine for the global community. The team is partnering with colleagues in Botswana to pursue this challenging endeavor in HIV vaccine discovery.