A Simon Fraser University researcher is working on developing a new formula that could lead to a vaccine to prevent HIV.
Port Moody resident Ralph Pantophlet is one of 23 researchers selected to receive an award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research to continue research in his field.
"My research focuses on trying to develop a possible component of an HIV vaccine that generates neutralizing antibodies, which are basically molecules made by our immune system that protect us against invading pathogens," said the associate professor in SFU's faculty of health sciences.
Pantophlet and his four member team, who work at the Burnaby campus, seek to better understand molecular and immunological conditions that impact the making of antibodies, specifically in relation to HIV.
The team recently discovered that HIV strains have sugar molecules that cloak them from the immune system and prevent the body from recognizing the virus as a foreign entity.
Pantophlet hopes they can trick the body into producing antibodies when it recognizes the sugar compound on HIV.
"The goal is to try to understand how these antibodies develop and try to understand how we can trigger them in a vaccine formation," he said. "If we can do that, then I think, it [could produce] a vaccine or a vaccine candidate to be tested."
Funding from the foundation will come in two stages: during the first four years, Pantophlet will receive $90,000 per year (part of that money comes from a previous award). After the fourth year, his research undergoes evaluation and if it receives a positive review, funding will continue for another four years.
The funding will allow him to focus on research and provides an injection of money to get some of the initial work off the ground, such as basic experiments, Pantophlet added.
Vancouver has become a centre for leading research regarding HIV, however his research will not be used to create a vaccine to fight HIV, but to prevent it.
The vaccine would be used as a preventative measure and would be injected into people before they acquire HIV - similar to how a flu vaccine works.
But, it could be several years before this groundbreaking vaccine becomes a reality.
According to Pantophlet, most vaccines that are developed from the academic stage to the licensing stage take approximately 15 years before they become readily accessible in the market.
Still, he remains confident that a breakthrough can be made in eight years of research.
"Within the eight years, the hope is that we will have something that we could say with confidence is something - that could be given to a manufacturer and developed into something that can be tested in clinical trials," he said.
The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is funded by the province.