Our Project: Hi, Vax!
HIV is one of the biggest health issues the world has ever faced, and although antiretroviral therapy (ART) has made it possible to prevent mortality in HIV patients, it has several limitations, including the logistic and economic burden that arises from the need for lifelong treatment. To end HIV, we still need a cure. Today, the best hope for a cure is DNA vaccines, which are DNA molecules that harbour a gene encoding an antigen. When administered, cells will take up these molecules and produce the antigen. Dendritic cells will take this antigen to lymph nodes and present them to T cells, activating them and licensing them to hunt and kill infected cells. In theory, this would allow for the elimination of viral reservoir in the body. In reality, however, DNA vaccination for HIV hasn’t worked in humans.
Although the key component of a DNA vaccine is the antigen-encoding gene, the vaccine backbone, as the name implies, accounts for most of its mass and governs its activity. So, we wondered, can we design a better vaccine backbone? We have designed genetic elements that, when put together, will hopefully achieve improved transgene expression (promoter, intron, polyadenylation sequence and barrier element) and immune stimulation (immunostimulatory DNA motif and RNA gene as well as coding sequences for peptides that direct antigen processing) with respect to existing vaccine backbones. We’re having the parts synthesized and assembling them soon. We hope that this new vaccine backbone will give rise to new, safer and more potent DNA vaccines for HIV—maybe even a cure.
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