The Wistar Institute’s Amelia Escolano, PhD, is developing a novel approach using sequential immunization to capture protection against multiple strains.
The work of developing a universal HIV vaccine has been inherently difficult for many reasons—beginning with how the virus behaves. HIV mutates and makes it difficult to create widespread antibody protection.
“When an individual gets infected, they develop an antibody response against the virus, but the virus readily mutates and can easily escape the antibody response,” Amelia Escolano, PhD, assistant professor in The Wistar Institute’s Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, said.
In addition, other challenges in vaccine development including, “lack of appropriate animal models, and limited investments by the pharmaceutical industry.” 1
These challenges have not stopped the work of Escolano and her team, who have been developing a universal HIV vaccine. Specifically, her novel approach is to make a vaccine by injecting a series of different versions of a viral component, in this case, part of the HIV envelope protein. This approach is believed to be necessary to induce a broadly protective immune response against HIV-1.
During her postdoctoral studies, Escolano demonstrated that the first of these injections had to be with a highly engineered envelope protein and that using more natural versions of this component for subsequent injections helped achieve the desired result: broadly neutralizing antibodies that can protect against many different strains of HIV-1. She will continue animal studies at Wistar to optimize sequential immunization approaches.
Last year, the National Advisory Committee of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, chose Escolano as a 2022 scholar, and she was also awarded The National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2022 Director’s New Innovator Award. That honor provides Escolano with a $1.5 million grant given in two parts over a total of five years. The prestigious award recognizes exceptionally innovative, early career scientists proposing high-impact research with unconventional approaches to major biomedical and behavioral research challenges.
Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, The Wistar Institute is involved in biomedical research with special expertise and focuses in cancer research and vaccine development. Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The institute works to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic.
Contagion spoke to Escolano who offered insights into her HIV vaccine approach and if this strategy can be used for other viruses and diseases.
1.Ng'uni T, Chasara C, Ndhlovu ZM. Major Scientific Hurdles in HIV Vaccine Development: Historical Perspective and Future Directions. Front Immunol. 2020;11:590780. Published 2020 Oct 28. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.590780