ASU and Vector scientists are testing experimental immunogens against HIV

3 March 2016 Public Relations Department

In Russia the development of HIV vaccine is carried out by several science teams from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Novosibirsk. Novosibirsk team consists of Federal Scientific Center for Virology and Biotechnology “Vector” employees and young researchers of the Faculty of Chemistry of Altai State University.

From idea to result

Vector is one of the centers for molecular virology in Russia. It is probably only the Virology Center under the Ministry of Defense in Sergiyev Posad that could be compared to Vector in its strength.

The work on HIV vaccine has been conducted since 1990s. As a result, the artificial immunogens TBI and TCI have been obtained. A number of researchers participated in immunogens creation: Alexey M. Eroshkin, Alexander A. Ilyichev, Larisa I. Karpenko, Sergey I. Bazhan. On the basis of TBI and TCI, the candidate vaccine CombiHIVvac has been developed. The vaccine has come through pre-clinical tests and first phase of clinical animal tests successfully.

“Despite the success, we must move further, because a lot of new information on HIV-1 immonology has emerged since the vaccine creation. There are problems that are not solved with the previous immunogen. We continue our research taking into account the failures that were encountered by other HIV vaccine developers,” note the scientists.

At present the focus has shifted to new artificial immunogens construction. At the current stage the genetic constructions for their obtainment have been created. Immunogen is a vaccine prototype. A successful immunogen should cause the immune response that will allow an organism to fight the infection efficiently. The first experiments show that animals produce antibodies, which can neutralize the virus.

“It is very difficult to work with HIV. Serious safety measures must be followed, that is why the masked virus model is used for research,” explain the scientists. “Our model has already showed the partial virus neutralization. Nevertheless the percentage is not very high, it exists. Now we must deepen the research and analyze the obtained results.”

The work on new immunogen creation has started not long ago. There have only two years passed from the idea to constructions creation. Such period of time is inconspicuous, as the whole vaccine creation cycle lasts for ten years.

Molecular biology as a vocation

One of HIV vaccine developers is head of Immunochemical Laboratory of the Department of Bioengineering of Vector Scientific Center, Assistant Professor of ASU Department of Organic Chemistry, Candidate of Biology Dmitry Sherbakov.

He was still at school, when he understood that he would like to go in for chemistry. What is more, he was interested in chemistry within the classical meaning of this word. In grades 10 and 11 he was studying the subject intentionally. After school graduation Dmitry submitted the documents only to the Faculty of Chemistry of Altai State University, but he was not accepted for studying full-time. He took a part-time course and after a year of studying he was transferred to the full-time mode, where he had been studying for 5 years and successfully graduated in 2006.

“On my 3rd year I got interested in topics related to chemistry, topics that require the strong chemical base, but can also be applied to biology issues,” says Dmitry Sherbakov. “There was no opportunity to study spheres that I am studying now. Despite the strong knowledge of chemistry, there were no people in the university who would study recombinant technologies.”

Dmitry Sherbakov entered a postgraduate course at Vector Center for Virology and Biotechnology and started working on the areas connected to molecular biology. His Candidate’s thesis, which he defended in 2010, was devoted to diagnostics of human pathogenic orthopoxviruses.

After thesis defense there was some time to think about what to do next. Dmitry changed his area of study to molecular virology and immunology, which are more fundamental that diagnostics.

In 2012, after his military service, he came to work for the Department of Bioengineering.

Remote laboratory

“Which problem did I encounter in my work? Vector has brilliant school in molecular biology, virology and immunology, modern equipment, well-established contacts. But, strangely, it lacks young specialists,” says Dmitry Sherbakov. “My only solution of the problem was to attract students. I didn’t get any adequate response from Novosibirsk State University, students were reluctant to work for my laboratory. By contrast, I got positive feedback from the Faculty of Chemistry of Altai State University.”

Cooperation between the Department of Bioengineering of Vector Scientific Center and ASU Faculty of Chemistry started in 2013. Then it turned into remote laboratory that spread from Novosibirsk to Barnaul.

Faculty of Chemistry graduates, who have become postgraduate students of Center for Virology and Biotechnology, and students of different years take an active part in the work. Results they get possess significant scientific potential. Research work is mainly conducted in Vector. Students, who are particularly interested in this work, either undertake interships in the Center during academic year or spend their summer holidays on research. Moreover, some operations are being transferred to ASU Faculty of Chemistry.

The work on vaccine has united regions and generations. The supervision of the research is carried out by Vector employees: Head of the Department of Bioengineering, Doctor of Biology, Professor Alexander A. Ilyichev; Head of the Laboratory pf Recombinant Vaccines, Doctor of Biology, Assistant Professor Larisa I. Karpenko; Head of the Technical Department, Doctor of Biology Sergey I. Bazhan. This is the older generation. Others are young researchers, including graduates and students of the Faculty of Chemistry.

Is it possible to overcome the threat?

HIV problem is undoubtedly global. According to World Health Organization data, 2 million people got HIV in 2014.
1.2 million people died of HIV that year.

Taking into account the lethal effect of the virus, the objective of creating HIV vaccine is quite relevant. At the same time HIV vaccine is one of the most difficult to develop.

No country in the world has managed to find an effective way of fighting the virus. At the current moment there is antiretroviral combination therapy, which reduces the viral load. Nevertheless, it is still impossible to cure HIV.

“Americans invest a lot of money in antibodies research that neutralize a wide specter of HIV-1 receiving barns. Nonetheless, they have no significant results, which would tell us that the HIV vaccine will be created soon. They are trying to find the way to successful vaccine, just like us,” says Dmitry Sherbakov. “Russian researchers, including ones working for our laboratory, have not less chances to create the vaccine. There should not be an extensive way of solving the problem, when a great number of laboratories are being established, but intensive one, when new and even unusual approaches to vaccine development are being tested.”

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