Possible HIV Vaccine Strategies

Researchers have many different strategies that may lead to an effective HIV vaccine. Scientists take small parts of the HIV virus and alter them in a laboratory to create synthetic copies. The experimental vaccines do not use whole or live HIV. The vaccines cannot cause HIV or AIDS. The vaccines being tested should produce either antibodies* or cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) to fight infection.

Types of Experimental HIV Vaccines:
  • peptide vaccine: made of tiny pieces of proteins from the HIV virus.
  • recombinant subunit protein vaccine: made of bigger pieces of proteins that are on the surface of the HIV virus. Examples of a recombinant subunit protein are gp120, gp140, or gp160 produced by genetic engineering.
  • live vector vaccine: non-HIV viruses engineered to carry genes encoding HIV proteins. The genes are inserted into another vector, which carries them into the body's cells. The genes in turn produce proteins that are normally found on the surface of the HIV virus. This type of vaccine most resembles the HIV virus but is not harmful. Many vaccines used today, like the smallpox vaccine, use this approach.
  • DNA vaccine: uses copies of a small number of HIV genes which are inserted into pieces of DNA called plasmids. The HIV genes will produce proteins very similar to the ones from real HIV.
  • vaccine combination: uses any two vaccines, one after another, to create a stronger immune response. Often referred to as "prime-boost strategy."
  • virus-like particle vaccine (pseudovirion vaccine): a non-infectious HIV look-alike that has one or more, but not all, HIV proteins.

* Words in pink are defined in our glossary. You must have Javascript enabled in your browser. If you have problems opening the glossary, click here.