Kill a Killer
| 2 |
UCLA scientists were the first to identify AIDS in
1981. Will they now become the first to develop a vaccine against
Photography by Ann Johnson
Ferbas has wanted to find a vaccine for AIDS since she was a college
intern at a Manhattan hospital and watched helplessly as scores
of gay men succumbed to a killer disease without a name. Now 36,
Ferbas sees her dream within reach.
a virologist, and her colleagues at the UCLA AIDS Institute recently
became the first team to create an experimental vaccine with the
potential to wield a double-edged sword against HIV, the deadly
virus that causes AIDS.
only might the vaccine prevent people from contracting HIV, their
findings suggest, it may also help the immune systems of those who
are already infected to cleanse the virus from their cells. Since
the Journal of Virology published Ferbas' study in July - provoking
a frenzy of media coverage - she's shifted her focus to testing
the vaccine on mice, where it demonstrates promising results.
than 100 people - many of them HIV-positive and some from as far
away as Brazil - have flooded the university with ecstatic e-mails
and phone calls offering to volunteer for the vaccine trial. One
young man even declared her as "the goddess of West Hollywood" and
promised her a seat on the front float of the Gay Pride Parade.
a fast-talking New Yorker with a riot of dark curls and enormous
hazel eyes, is quick to point out that her laboratory findings are
one step down a long road and much work remains to be done. The
UCLA vaccine faces at least five to 10 years of testing before the
Food and Drug Administration will consider stamping it for public
use. But even with that long horizon in front of her, there's no
disguising her excitement.
work, a vaccine must stimulate antibodies to fight off new infection
- then prompt a cellular reaction to help clear the cells that HIV
has already invaded," explains Ferbas, an adjunct assistant professor
of hematology and oncology. "Our vaccine is the first from a killed
AIDS virus to do both."