Research finds that the protein found in the feline version of AIDS, feline immunodeficiency (FIV), might be a step in the right direction for the development of an HIV vaccine for humans.

Although the study published in the Journal Of Virology suggests that more exploration is needed before it could ever lead to an actual HIV vaccine. Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of California believe that this is a positive step in the right direction.

"One major reason why there has been no successful HIV vaccine to date is that we do not know which parts of HIV to combine to produce the most effective vaccine," study corresponding author Janet Yamamoto, a professor of retroviral immunology at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a university press release.

The researchers are working on a T-cell-based HIV vaccine. A T-cell is a type of white blood cell that makes up part of the immune system and helps the body to fight against harmful diseases or substances.

What the study authors have found is that a protein from the FIV triggered an immune response in blood from people who had HIV.

“Surprisingly, we have found that certain peptides of the feline AIDS virus can work exceptionally well at producing human T-cells that fight against HIV,” said Yamamoto.

Yamamoto and her team isolated the T-cells from the HIV- positive patients and developed these cells with different peptides. Peptides are compounds of amino acids and they are important for carrying information to and from cells; and an integral part for the survival of the FIV and AIDS viruses.

The reaction from this isolation showed promising news, “We found that one particular peptide region on FIV activated the patients’ T-cells to kill the HIV,” Yamamoto said.

No T-cell based vaccine to date has been used to prevent any viral disease.

“We want to stress that our findings do not mean that the feline AIDS virus infects humans, but rather that the cat virus resembles the human virus sufficiently so that this cross-reaction can be observed,” said study collaborator Dr. Jay A. Levy, a professor of medicine at UCSF.

However, Yamamoto is hopeful that FIV will be useful in identifying the peptide regions that would most be susceptible to a T-cell attack and eventually killing off the whole virus.