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Release: Nov. 30, 1999

UI researchers to begin state's first HIV vaccine trial

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care researchers will soon begin the first human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine trial in Iowa. The UI is one of 11 institutions nationwide that will participate in the study as part of the National Institutes of Health-funded AIDS Clinical Trials Groups.

The clinical study will help determine whether a vaccine might modify the course of HIV disease in people who are already infected, said Jack Stapleton, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and lead investigator for Iowa's portion of the study, which will begin in January 2000.

The study involves people with HIV who are receiving either an immune booster known as interleukin 2 (IL-2) or a placebo through a separate NIH-funded study at the UI.

"We will learn if individuals who receive IL-2 respond better to the new vaccine and other vaccines compared with those who do not receive the booster," Stapleton said. "In addition, the study will help determine if boosting the immune system with an HIV vaccine, in combination with treating the virus with potent anti-HIV drugs, leads to better long-term health or a cure."

The study is one of the first to investigate if a vaccination can be used to treat chronic viral infections, as opposed to using a vaccination to prevent infections. Stapleton said the vaccination might also be useful for other chronic infections such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B or herpes viruses.

More than 1,000 Iowans with HIV infection have been treated by the UI Division of Infectious Diseases since the epidemic began. Approximately 300 Iowans currently receive their primary medical care through the UI HIV Clinic, which Stapleton directs. Following national trends, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of Iowa patients who are women and/or were infected through heterosexual exposure to the virus.

HIV disease is transmitted when an infected person passes the virus to another person through sex, shared needles during drug use or other contact involving infected blood. The virus attacks the body's immune system and prevents it from fighting infection and certain cancers. AIDS is the late stage of HIV disease, in which serious infections or cancers are present.

Currently, drug cocktails can considerably slow disease progress and improve the health and survival of HIV-infected people. In addition, anti-HIV therapy can help prevent infection in people exposed to the virus or in infants born to infected women. However, there is no known cure for AIDS.

The National Institutes of Health reports more than 600,000 cases of AIDS in the United States since 1981, and that as many as 900,000 Americans may be living with HIV.

Stapleton is a member of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Infectious Diseases Research Advisory Committee and a staff physician at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.