The first phase of the project required the researchers succeed in the cells to generate a certain volume of immunogens, which they succeeded.
Puerto Rico – Globally there are currently 36.4 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Each year, two million people are infected with this infection, which often leads to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a disease that has claimed the lives of millions of people since it was discovered in the 1980s and even today has not ceased to be a chronic disease whose treatment costs are exorbitant to individuals and governments.
The fight against HIV has become one of the greatest scientific challenges of recent decades, particularly in the virus’s ability to “hide” in the body and reproduce by invading healthy cells, explained neurobiologist Manuel Delgado Velez of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
The research team has successfully passed the first phase of their project on the vaccine works from the Center for Research in Molecular Sciences (cicim) and wait for the authorization of the National Institute of Health (NIH) to start the second phase.
And they did it in 18 months, said Vélez Delgado, project manager of the vaccine. “We have received praise, have recognized that we have achieved much in a short time,” said the researcher.
The UPR is one of group 20+ teams participating in the initiative launched by the White House to develop a vaccine against HIV. The vision of the administration of President Barack Obama is directing the process that allows in the not too distant future, all children can be immunized against this infection, said Delgado.
The possibility that the HIV vaccine can leave Puerto Rico full of excitement both its researchers and all who somehow know the project carried out in the cicim located in Rio Piedras. “This is an incredible research center and there is potential for large discoveries,” said operations director cicim, Martin Montoya.
Complex intellectual challenge
The draft HIV vaccine on the island is headed by Bioreagent Clinical Center (CBC), a corporation created in the UPR to manage the project. Along with the UPR, in the effort to collaborate Trust for Science, Technology and Research, the Industrial Development Company, the company CDI Laboratories and Amgen.
The initiative means that each working group receives an immunogen, what they call a vaccine candidate, said the neurobiologist. The immunogen comes from an HIV-positive patient in Tanzania.
“Between 20 and 30% of patients develop neutralizing antibodies. Even in the absence of antiretroviral treatment, they develop antibodies that stick to the virus and neutralize it. Those people are living laboratories, “said the researcher.
Once the UPR received the vaccine candidate, the company CDI Laboratories in Mayagüez was responsible for the processes to reproduce and purifying the immunogen. It then passed into the hands of researchers at the UPR, which introduced the immunogen in a cell in the laboratory and provided the necessary conditions for this cell secrete a particular molecule.
The first phase of the project required the researchers succeed in the cells to generate a certain volume of immunogens, which they succeeded. The second phase of the experiment requires more production to generate a sufficient volume of molecules so that they can perform preclinical studies with rabbits.
The CBC team expects to receive authorization to continue in the second phase of the project in the coming months, which also would be accompanied by a new economic subsidy.
“It’s very expensive process,” admitted Delgado Velez, even though Amgen offers technical support to the team and provided specialized machinery. And this is taking into account that one of the requests of White House and NIH is that the vaccine is inexpensive, so researchers should be aware throughout the process of the materials used and the processes performed to prevent accumulation of unnecessary along the chain of research and development costs, which would mean that the final product has a high price. He also added that, “all intellectual property arising from the project will be held by the UPR.”
Other research ideas
The draft HIV vaccine is only one of numerous investigations carried out in the cicim structure where researchers working on projects funded by the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the National Administration of Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the federal Department of Energy and the Trust for Science and Technology, among others.
At least two of the projects funded by NASA seek the welfare of the astronauts on the International Space Station or on future trips to Mars, explained the chemist Eduardo Nicolau.
As part of their projects, Nicolau works with students in the development of a membrane filter that allows urine to turn it into clean water that humans can ingest.
“The systems used in the Space Station now recognize that use too much energy. We need systems that use less energy and to prevent the growth of bacteria, which is one of the biggest problems they face, “Nicolau said.
The membrane can also be used within the planet, it is a method that will increase access to clean water without large amounts of energy, said the scientist with doctorate in chemistry.
The water purification project presented additional challenges for the team; because in the process they were concerned what they would do with the waste generated once get clean water. Thus this created a new opportunity for collaboration between teams working in the cicim, for another project already addressing such concern.
One of waste arising from the filtration process urine is urea. One component of the urea is ammonia, which another team of researchers is working in the building to be used as energy source for space travel, explained lead researcher cicim, Carlos R. Cabrera.
The mechanism developed by Cabrera and his team has gone through multiple tests even tests aboard a parabolic aircraft can experience periods of zero gravity and already received approval from NASA to bring their experiment to the International Space Station within a year or year and a half, said the researcher.