Scientist: "Sleepy" immune system could combat HIV

A Canadian scientist has hypothesized that a reduced immune system might actually be the best defense against HIV/AIDS, CBC News is reporting.

Vaccine makers have long sought to enhance the immune system to combat HIV. Indeed, the CBC points to Merck's investment in a vaccine to boost immune systems; in 2007, the company found out in clinical trials that its approach only made HIV infection worse.

Dr. Frank Plummer believes approaches like Merck's could be the wrong way to go. Plummer has spent 25 years trying to unlock the mystery of HIV-resistant sex workers in Kenya, and he hopes his research could ultimately lead to a vaccine gel for millions of women.

In an HIV-infected person, the virus goes after the immune system, attacking the cells. But Plummer, the scientific director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, and his team wanted to see what would happen if the immune system didn't fight back. In effect, the immune system becomes "sleepy"; something Plummer has seen occur naturally in African sex trade workers.

"One of the signature characteristics of these (women) is that they have what we call a quiescent immune, or if you like, a 'sleepy immune' system," Plummer explained at a TedX Manitoba conference in Winnipeg this week. And there is burgeoning interest in his ideas; Plummer and his team just won a five-year $680,000 federal grant to develop a microbicidal gel that will try to copy this protective effect.

- get the story from CBC News
learn more about the TedX conference