UoN Team on Course to Create Women’s Only HIV Vaccine

Dr Marianne Mureithi
  • Scientists at the University of Nairobi are studying the vaginal secretions of volunteers to develop vaccines that stop HIV during intercourse for women only.

    The team attached to the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) is using women due to their high predisposition to sexual infections compared to men. Their genitalia has a wider surface of interaction with the viruses doubling the likelihood of interaction at 6.6 per cent compared to 3.3 per cent for men.

    Another reason women are at higher risk of infections is cultural restrictions, as it denies them the right to decide whether or not to have protected intercourse, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Dr Marianne Mureithi, a scientist at KAVI institute. “We are swabbing the vaginal walls of those taking part to study the microscopic environment of the landing spots that facilitate viral transmission.â€

    The study was launched in 2017 and targets both HIV-negative and HIV-positive women from Nairobi Kangemi and Kibra areas as well as those who seek hysterectomy Services at Kenyatta National Hospital.

    Dr Marianne Mureithi

    Also of interest to the scientists are the cells which interact with the virus during sexual intercourse. They are thus infecting samples of the donated uterus from patients who have undergone hysterectomy with HIV and have noted the cells of the immune system start fighting the virus at the point of entry so that the woman is not infected,†said Dr Mureithi.

    Other scientists at the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) have developed a vaccine that induces a special type of antibody that can neutralize several HIV variants. IAVI director, Dr Vincent Kioi, explained that “one virus responds to a single strain of the virus, but for HIV because it mutates so much, you end up with a situation where one person who has been infected for a long period has so many different variants of the virus within them that their body tries to respond to.”

    So far, phase one of the clinical trial produced a 97 per cent desired immune response from volunteers and the next step is to produce a combination of antibodies to combat the different virus variants, says Dr Kioi adding that the antibodies from the vaccine can also be used to fight tuberculosis.

    HIV vaccine illustration
    HIV vaccine illustration