Biodesign Institute Awarded Grant to Develop AIDS Vaccine Funding is most recent of several awards for HIV-related Research at the Institute

Biodesign Institute Awarded Grant to Develop AIDS Vaccine Funding is most recent of several awards for HIV-related Research at the Institute

October 25, 2004

October 24, 2004

Kimberly Ovitt, Director of Communication & Institutional Advancement
(480)727-8688 |

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue promising research into an oral vaccine that stimulates the production of antibodies known to block HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

Researchers at the Biodesign Institute have already found a way to stimulate an immune reaction to HIV in the mucosal membranes of mice, blocking the ability of the virus to enter the body. Led by Tsafrir Mor of the Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, this research milestone was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in September.

"We've known for some time that there are a small number of individuals who appear to be resistant to HIV infection despite repeated exposure, and that these individuals have specific antibodies in their mucosal secretions," said Mor. "The challenge was figuring out how to stimulate the production of these antibodies." Mor and his colleagues solved this challenge through protein engineering. The resulting antibody production increases resistance to the virus, but does not fully protect against infection.

The $446,000 grant, spread over two years, will allow Mor and his colleagues to enhance the effectiveness of the vaccine, test oral delivery using plant-derived production, and generate additional data needed to move the vaccine toward human trials.

"Our research showed that the antibodies reduce the amount of HIV that crosses into the body by 50 percent. In a disease that is 100 percent fatal, the goal is to find a way for these antibodies to completely neutralize the virus," said Mor.

This funding is in addition to a recent five-year, $7.4 million NIH grant the Center received to pursue development of topical treatments called microbicides to block HIV/AIDS. While the two projects are distinct, Mor said progress in each benefits the other. "It's important to attack the problem from different angles because layers of protection from HIV may be required to effectively stop its advance," said Mor.

Scientists created the vaccine by fusing a portion of the HIV envelope protein to a non-toxic component of the bacteria that causes cholera. The use of the cholera bacteria proved critical in activating the mucosal immune system, the entry point for HIV. Mor explained that most traditional vaccines cause a systemic immune response but fail to activate the mucosal system, the body's first line of defense.

Another advantage to a vaccine that engages mucosal systems is that it can be delivered orally because all mucous membranes in the body—whether in the respiratory, gastrointestinal or urogenital tracts—are interconnected. Oral deliver is considered a better option for use in the third world countries where the AIDS epidemic is most severe. To further enhance application in less developed nations, Mor's research, like several projects within the Center, includes novel plant-based production methods for the vaccine.

"We've shown that tomato plants can produce this vaccine," said Mor. "If we're successful in the other aspects of developing the vaccine, this delivery system would give countries without pharmaceutical manufacturing infrastructure a cost-effective way to produce it."

In addition to his role at the Biodesign Institute, Mor is an Assistant Professor in the School of Life Sciences at ASU.


Written by: Joe Caspermeyer