PORTLAND, Ore. — Maricela Berumen uses painting as therapy.
"It's my own way of escape from stressful times," said Berumen, 45.
One of those stressful times was 18 years ago, when she found out she and her husband tested positive for HIV.
"I was just thinking how quickly can I get up and go home and get my son tested," Berumen recalled.
Her son tested negative, but the risk of infection is still high. That's why researchers at Oregon Health and Science University have developed a vaccine candidate that may stop HIV in its tracks by using another virus, CMV.
"So, this virus, CMV, will persist and keep stimulating your immune response, and what that does is creates sort of a lifelong shield," explained Klaus Früh, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University and a co-founder of VIR Biotechnology.
The vaccine was first tested on monkeys, on the monkey form of HIV called SIV.
"At least 50% to 60% of them will stop the infection, and infection actually goes away over time," said Dr. Louis Picker, an associate director of vaccine and gene therapy at OHSU and a co-founder of VIR Biotechnology.
Now, the vaccine is in a phase-one clinical trial in humans.
"This is a completely new way of targeting it," Früh said. "That's why we think this vaccine is so unique."
If successful, the vaccine would be geared toward people at high-risk of contracting HIV, not those who currently have the disease, but Berumen said she sees this as a step closer to finding a cure for HIV.
"HIV doesn't have me," she said. "I have HIV. I'm not going to give up."
And neither will the researchers.
Through medication, Berumen and her husband have been able to control the disease.
The researchers said the vaccine platform can also be used on other diseases, such as hepatitis viruses, tuberculosis and even cancer.
OHSU is not involved in the phase-one trial, which is sponsored by San Francisco-based VIR Biotechnology.