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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About HIV and AIDS (FAQ Home)

HIV Research

What is being done in the area of vaccine research? Return to top

Development of a safe and effective vaccine for AIDS is a public health priority. NIAID-supported basic research studies add knowledge about the mechanisms of immunity to HIV and provide information on the most promising candidate vaccines. The National Cooperative Vaccine Development Groups are developing and testing novel experimental HIV vaccine concepts. NIAID-supported animal studies examine the effects of potential vaccines in several retroviral models. Other studies focus on identifying vaccine adjuvants, compounds that enhance the immune responses to the vaccine.

The most difficult type of drug product to perform clinical trials on is the vaccine in development. Research is currently underway in the area of vaccines, but many factors such as efficacy and safety will have to be studied in clinical trials before a vaccine can be considered effective for use. It is projected that, even under the best circumstances, it will take many years before this occurs.

Who is responsible for HIV/AIDS research in the federal government? Return to top

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is the principal agency of the U.S. Public Health Service responsible for conducting basic and clinical research on AIDS and HIV. NIAID's efforts cover five broad scientific areas: (1) HIV pathogenesis research, (2) epidemiology and natural history, (3) vaccine research and development, (4) treatment research and development, and (5) HIV disease in children.

NIAID's goal is to foster the discovery and development of interventions that will improve the quality and duration of life of HIV-infected individuals. Basic research is the foundation of this effort, underpinning programs of targeted drug discovery to combat HIV and opportunistic infections.

Why are animals being used in HIV/AIDS research, particularly chimpanzees? Return to top

AIDS is an extremely serious illness that has caused the deaths of more than 300,000 men, women, and children in the United States since it was first reported in 1981. Most of the research on AIDS has depended upon the willingness of persons with AIDS to participate in studies and on the availability of specimens and blood cells donated by patients and healthy volunteers. Because those diagnosed with AIDS have been extraordinarily willing to volunteer, much progress has been made in identifying HIV as the cause of the disease.

Despite much progress, however, several key questions cannot be answered by working with only specimens donated by humans; some research depends on the availability of animals as subjects. Because AIDS is a disorder of the immune system, which is very complex, primates present the best opportunity for study because of their close biologic relationship to humans.

The potential benefits of this research will not be restricted to humans. Several infections of animals are closely related to HIV infection in humans. Simian (monkey or ape) AIDS has caused serious and often fatal illnesses in many primate species. Feline leukemia and the recently discovered feline immunodeficiency virus infection, caused by viruses in the same family as HIV, kill thousands of cats in the United States each year. Because of exhaustive research in this area, there now exists a working vaccine for feline leukemia. Continued HIV research will extend our knowledge of these and other animal health problems and will possibly alleviate much suffering and prevent many animal deaths.