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A drinkable, probiotic HIV vaccine?

A French researcher has developed a drinkable probiotic vaccine that has helped monkeys ward off the simian version of HIV for four years.  

A French researcher’s working on the mother of all healthy smoothies: a drinkable, probiotic HIV vaccine.

The Washington Post reports on an intriguing HIV vaccine developed by French hematologist Jean-Marie Andrieu that uses probiotics to help condition the body’s reaction to the HIV virus. In trials, the vaccine has enabled test subjects to ward off infection for more than four years despite repeated exposure to high concentrations of the virus. The subjects, however, have been monkeys. The monkeys were infected with SIV, the monkey equivalent of HIV.

But Andrieu is optimistic.“Of course, there’s no guarantee that it’ll work the same with regard to HIV and people, but I’m confident that it should,” he told The Post.

Andrieu’s work with the probiotic HIV vaccine was first reported in 2012. He updated his research this year with an article in Frontiers in Immunology.

The principle through which the vaccine works is by conditioning the body’s defenses to curb the natural immune response, or “immunosuppression.” The specifics are still fuzzy. “We quite honestly don’t know the mechanics,” said Andrieu, who, on a hunch, began experimenting with “killed” versions of SIV in combination with high concentrations of bacteria like Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus to create his cocktail.

Recent research has shown that probiotics support immune and digestive health in people with HIV. With the growing body of research supporting the health-boosting powers of bugs, that the cure for HIV may include probiotics may not seem as far out as it might have 10 years ago.

The research community has been mostly skeptical of Andrieu’s approach, but in an accompanying editorial in Frontiers in Immunology, Jose Esparza, a leading HIV vaccine researcher and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, commended his efforts, even remarking that the levels of protection achieved appeared “impressive” and that he’d like to see more support for bold projects that take a “out-of-the-paradigm approach.”

Andrieu hopes to begin clinical trials with humans in February.

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