Perth professor in HIV vaccine bid

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Simon MalalA Perth researcher playing a key role in the fight against HIV-AIDS says there could be a breakthrough in vaccines within 10 years.

Professor Simon Mallal leads a team of 42 scientists at a collaborative research centre in Perth who have already notched up a breakthrough in HIV-AIDS research.

In 2002, the team discovered that a person's genetics will determine how they will react to HIV and how they should be treated.

Prof Mallal is using this expertise now in a seven-year, $300 million international project, in collaboration with US and European HIV-AIDS experts, to find a vaccine to stem the global HIV-Aids epidemic which has infected 42 million people.

"We realised we had to design vaccines that were appropriate to different regions of the world, and that is the work we are now engaged in," Prof Mallal said.

"This is our biggest humanitarian and medical crisis.

"It is very hard to estimate when we will have an effective vaccine, but as a cautious generalisation most people anticipate some time over the next 10 years we will start to see more effective vaccines emerging."

He warned that initial vaccines may only be partially effective and there would be some disappointments when clinical trials begin of the many vaccines being developed around the world.

"My ultimate hope is we have a fully effective HIV vaccine and we will be able to eliminate the problem, as we did with smallpox," he said.

"This is a much greater threat because of the organism's ability to mutate, but we have been able to overcome big medical challenges and I don't see why this one can't be conquered."

The rate of the spread of the infection would slow when an effective vaccine was combined with risk reduction and antiviral protection, he said.

Prof Mallal said about 956 new diagnoses of HIV were made in Australia last year, when 2.9 million people died around the world.

This took the global HIV-Aids toll to 25 million deaths.

© 2006 AAP