Check out my article on the 15th Annual Conference on Vaccine Research, which showcased work being done combating HIV, malaria, influenza, rotavirus and other major global disease threats. The conference is sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in Maryland. The article can be found in our Special Features section.

One of the intriguing questions raised by the RV144 AIDS vaccine trial in Thailand, which demonstrated historic though modest (31.2%) vaccine-induced protection from HIV, was whether the protective effect of the vaccine candidates waned over time. Data showed that vaccine efficacy was nearly 60% during the first year following vaccination, but because the trial was not designed to look at whether a certain number of injections were effective or if the protective responses waned with time, investigators were unable to draw any conclusions about this observation (see Raft of Results Energizes Researchers, IAVI Report, Sep.-Oct. 2009).

In his talk at the 15th Annual Conference on Vaccine Research about advances in vaccine discovery, David Weiner, chair of the gene therapy and vaccines program at the University of Pennsylvania, recalled that it has been about two decades since the “public coming out” of DNA-based vaccination in AIDS research. 

If you work on vaccines you know the story of British physician Edward Jenner, whose observation that dairymaids infected with cowpox made them resistant to the far more virulent smallpox virus led him to develop, in 1796, the first experimental vaccine. Jenner’s strategy sounded simple: He inoculated an eight-year-old boy with pus scraped from the cowpox blisters of one of those milkmaids and then inoculated the child six weeks later with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion to prove his hypothesis.