In the early '80s, it was a mysterious, incurable, deadly epidemic, That was then...and now...UWO researchers, including Elizabeth Banasikowska and Chil-Yong Kang, hope to have a serum ready in about five years to combat the illness. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario are hoping a fourth time's the charm to develop an effective vaccine to combat HIV/AIDS. Tuesday, in a breakthrough announcement, they said they've received approval to try an entirely new formula on humans. By following a line of research that successfully produced vaccines for polio, rabies and hepatitis A, they hope to have a serum available to fight HIV/AIDS in about five years, if all goes well. The world's three other attempts to develop vaccines since 2003 all failed. London research has been funded by Sumagen Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Korean pharmaceutical giant Sumagen Co. Ltd. HIV/AIDS has claimed 28 million lives worldwide since it was identified nearly 30 years ago. More than another 35 million people are living with the virus that attacks the immune system. While HIV/AIDS is being controlled in North America, it is ravaging Africa. Starting next month, 40 HIV-positive volunteers will begin clinical trials, just approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Those trials will be followed by tests on 6,600 HIV-negative, but high-risk volunteers, testing immune responses and effectiveness of the vaccine in two more phases. "I feel happy and comfortable to initiate this human-clinical trial," said chief researcher Chil-Yong Kang, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at UWO. It'll be five years before the vaccine could be made available to the general public, provided all testing goes well, he said. Kang said approval by the FDA is key because the agency has strict standards generally regarded as a world standard. Unlike other research aimed at developing a vaccine, the Western team uses viruses it kills and genetically modifies to make them safe. Part of that process involves using white blood cells and the melittin protein from honeybees to help cultivate the vaccine. Other attempts have used live viruses, because that route was successful in developing vaccines to combat mumps, measles and smallpox. Kang said researchers in London had to conduct 230 different tests to satisfy the FDA, some involving primates, to ensure the vaccine would be safe to use on humans. "To have this approval is a very important stage," Kang said. The vaccine is being produced at special "bio-safety Level 3" laboratories in Maryland and Colorado because no lab in Canada is properly qualified, he said. Sumagen Canada has secured patents to the vaccine in more than 70 countries through WORLDdiscoveries, Western's technology-transfer office. Western president Amit Chakma said the latest move marks "a major development in our fight against HIV/AIDS." He noted the announcement comes on the heels of a $1 million donation from a Western professor to give new hope to Africans living with HIV/AIDS. The gift from Marianne Larsen, from an inheritance, will provide disease-fighting probiotic yogurt, developed in London, to as many as 1,100 people in Tanzania and East Africa each day for the next 10 years. The inability to find a vaccine since HIV/AIDS was first observed "has not been because of a lack of effort," Chakma said. "It is because it is a complex challenge." Linky.