BEIJING - Chinese scientists are researching an HIV vaccine based on studies of an effective vaccine for a fatal horse disease similar to AIDS.

Working on the project are scientists from China's top AIDS research body, the AIDS Reference Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicines (CAPM), in Beijing, and the Harbin Veterinary Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), in Harbin, which is the capital city of Heilongjiang province in North China.

CAAS researchers developed the equine infectious animal (EIA) vaccine being studied in the HIV vaccine program.

Shao Yiming, director of the AIDS Reference Laboratory, said his team will start research on the EIA vaccine's gene variation mechanism, and will make a comparison between EIA vaccine-provoked immune function and the immune functioning of AIDS patients who have survived for a long time.

“We expect to develop an effective HIV vaccine finally,“ noted Shao.

Virus Controlled In Horse

Shao said EIA is described as “horse AIDS“ by Chinese experts, since “the two kinds of viruses belong to the same family and genus in taxonomy.“ Both of them are transmitted mainly via blood.

Shao disclosed that, to date, researches have indicated at least half of the gene structures of AIDS and EIA are identical. “Their appearances are almost indistinguishable under an electron microscope,“ he said.

The EIA vaccine was developed in China a dozen years ago. Scientists in Harbin adopted ways of in vitro fertilization and animal transmission of the virus to gradually break the hereditary barrier in a bid to acquire a live-attenuated vaccine.

After 200 generations of virus development, the toxicity of the virus has been reduced gradually. Injected with the vaccine, a horse would not be infected with the deadly disease because the vaccine provokes an effective immune response.

A large number of horses have been injected with EIA vaccine in China, resulting in the total control of the deadly horse disease. “The EIA vaccine is expected to provide a research model for developing a human AIDS vaccine,“ noted Shao.

China reported its first AIDS case in 1985, and up until now, 8,277 cases of HIV infection have been detected in 30 provinces in China. In 1996, 2,649 HIV cases were reported, a 69 percent increase over the year before. *