Dr. Bob McNally: Meet the man behind a promising HIV vaccine

Dr. Bob McNally

How does this vaccine work?
You chop up the HIV virus and choose different parts of the genetic material that you want to put into a vaccine. Whoever is going to be vaccinated, you train their immune system so that when they see that particular genetic material they’re going to develop what’s called antibodies, as well as white cells against it. So if they’re exposed to the virus, their system’s already primed. It’s the same thing that you do with the flu: You chop it up and you put it in some kind of a carrier, and then if you come in contact with somebody that has the flu your body kicks into action.

If the same approach is used in other vaccines, why hasn’t it been tried on HIV before?

Scientists didn’t know for many years what part, which genetic material to choose, and how [to] deliver it effectively. That’s always been an issue, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. It really comes down to trial and error. One thing I want to make very clear is that by chopping up the virus and using pieces of it, you don’t give anybody HIV. It’s not the full HIV virus, only pieces.

How is this vaccine different from other HIV preventive measures out there?

We’ve been fighting this virus for 30 years. There’s good oral drugs that are out there for people who are HIV-positive, but when it comes to prevention, there are some regimens where you can take drugs but there’s cost and medical side effects from doing that — plus human beings aren’t likely to take a pill every day for the flu or for polio. You just don’t that. A vaccine really is the only choice. Just like polio and small pox, it’s vaccines that really turned the tide on these infections. We’ve got glimmers of hope out there that a vaccine is on the horizon. It’s still going to be a few years off, but we’re a lot further along than where we were a few years ago.

If the vaccine is approved, will we someday see the end of new HIV diagnoses?

I think we’ll have one piece of it, but one of the other things is that HIV has different forms. It morphs frequently, and when you have a drug that goes after one aspect of it [and] it morphs into something else, then the vaccine’s not very effective.

So will it ever be feasible to say there is a one-size-fits-all way to prevent and/or cure HIV?

I think eventually, many years off into the future, once we find out what does work. We have a trial right now that we’re doing  in people who are HIV-positive, mostly just to see how safe the vaccine is. There’s another one that’s really of interest here, a trial we’re going to do the first half of next year which combines oral drugs and a vaccine. … What the National Institutes of Health is hoping to do is throw everything at it and see if we can eventually reduce viral load to the point where potentially it would become nonexistent. We don’t know how real that concept is, but it’s certainly worth giving it a chance.

That sounds promising.

It just takes time. That’s the unfortunate thing about the vaccine business — it doesn’t happen overnight. But there’s been tremendous progress. The NIH has been very supportive, not only of GeoVax’s efforts but also of a number of separate clinical trials. Since the NIH is federally funded, U.S. taxpayers are, in effect, investing millions for this vaccine research. I think this is wonderful, because I believe these efforts are really starting to pay off.

Condom conundrums

We all learned about condoms in sex ed., but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have questions. We tapped Kate Sollecito, the senior brand manager of sexual wellness for Ansell Healthcare Ltd., the makers of LifeStyles Condoms, for answers to some common condom queries.

1. “Is it weird for women to carry condoms? I don’t want to be perceived as slutty.”
At one time condoms were buried behind the pharmacy counter, and it was considered embarrassing even for men to buy them. But our culture has changed, and with the increased risk and awareness of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the stigma surrounding condom use has decreased substantially. When a woman carries condoms, it shows she is smart, prepared and responsible – that she doesn’t need to rely on her partner to practice safe sex.

2.  “If you’re with someone for a long period of time, do you still need to use condoms?”
Yes. If you are sexually active, even in a long-term, monogamous relationship, you could be at risk for an STD or HIV/AIDS. When you have sex with someone, you are exposed to everyone that person had sex with before you. Your partner may be infected and not even know it. Using a latex or polyisoprene condom is the best way to protect yourself from becoming infected.

3.  “I know it’s safe to wear a condom during oral sex, but I’m not turned on by the idea. Any tips?”
Many people find the taste of condoms to be unpleasant and might be tempted to avoid using one during oral sex for that reason. To make oral sex more exciting, couples can try LifeStyles Flavors & Colors Condoms that have specially flavored lubrication in flavors like blueberry, vanilla, banana, chocolate and strawberry. There are also many flavored lubricants that can be used to enhance oral sex.

4. “What should you do if your condom breaks?”
Although the chance of a condom breaking is very rare because all condoms sold in the U.S. are electronically tested, if you feel a condom break, stop intercourse, withdraw immediately and contact your physician. Latex and polyisoprene condoms, when used properly, can help reduce the risk of spreading HIV/ AIDS and many other STIs. Lambskin condoms do not provide protection from STIs. Improper storage can lead to premature aging and deterioration of condoms, so be sure to store your condoms in a cool, dry place and avoid exposure to moisture, direct sunlight and fluorescent light. Never store condoms in your wallet or glove compartment! Lack of lubrication can also lead to condom breakage, so use lubricated condoms or even add additional water-based lubricant if necessary. 


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