Vaccines Research & Development
I’m Jamila and I work in the research and development of vaccines. My passion – and the reason I chose my career – is preventive medicine.
I’m fascinated with how research can lead to innovation. And how preventative medical tools like vaccines can stop people from getting sick in the first place.
For a number of years now, I’ve been interested in the science behind a particularly dangerous virus: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). I’m focused on determining what solutions we can develop to prevent infection from it.
What is HIV and why do we need a vaccine?
HIV is a virus that damages your immune system. It makes it harder to fight off other infections like tuberculosis or COVID-19, and can be fatal. In 2020, it was estimated that there were over 37 million people globally infected with HIV .
There is currently no approved cure for HIV infection, but thanks to outstanding scientific advances, there are several treatments that suppress the virus and help infected people stay healthy. HIV treatments can also prevent those infected from transmitting the virus to others.
Although contracting HIV is no longer a death sentence, infected people need to take medicines for the rest of their lives. And in lower income countries, access to such treatments isn’t always available. HIV continues to be one of the world’s most serious health issues - and it’s why we need to keep searching for a vaccine.
Why isn’t there a HIV vaccine yet?
HIV is trickier than other viruses as it changes rapidly once it’s inside our bodies. It also suppresses our immune response, making it harder for scientists to work out how a vaccine might trigger a response to block the virus. HIV can also hide from your immune system.
HIV’s ability to evade our normal immune response poses a particular problem for people like me who are working on developing vaccines, because vaccines generally work by stimulating an immune response. Even though the HIV virus has been around since the 1980s, HIV is still relatively new to us in viral terms. So we still have a lot to learn. But the more we research we do, the more confident I am that we will find effective solutions to prevent HIV infections.
Will we be able to develop a HIV vaccine?
Recent years have shown how innovation and science can lead to medical breakthroughs, and every day our technologies are advancing. Scientists are exploring the potential of new technologies, like the mRNA technology used to develop some COVID-19 vaccines. We need to be creative and learn from our success and failures, and keep reaching for those breakthroughs.
To think that just 40 years ago, HIV was brand new to us - and we didn’t have any way to help people who contracted it. And now many infected people, although they still need to take precautions, are living almost normal lives with less fear of passing it to a loved one. It makes me so proud to be a scientist. It’s my biggest hope that we could see a vaccine for HIV in my lifetime, and a world where we don’t have to live in fear of HIV.Read next story