"We would like to develop vaccines that imitate what the protect genes do," O'Brien said. But to accomplish this the researchers also need to identify the gene variations that actually speed up the disease.
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About 10 percent to 15 percent of all HIV patients progress rapidly to AIDS, an advanced stage of HIV infection. Of these rapid progressors, 10 percent to 17 percent have two copies of the CCR5P1 gene variation, said Dr. Stephen J. O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., co-author of the study.
Researchers now hope to identify all the other gene variations involved in both the rapid acceleration of HIV and in the slow progress of the disease. This will help in the design and testing of vaccines that would protect against infection by HIV.
The latest breakthrough comes as the Clinton administration is pledging more support for AIDS research, reports CBS News Correspondent Dawn Stensland.
Marking World AIDS Day Tuesday, President Clinton announced $10 million in grants for the care of AIDS orphans and highlighted a 30 percent increase in funding to the National Institutes of Health, to $200 million for research on HIV prevention and treatment around the world.
The White House said the NIH funding, included in the fiscal 1999 budget, represents the largest single investment of public monies into AIDS research. It includes $200 million to the NIH for AIDS vaccine research, an increase of $47 million over the previous year, and $164 million for new research such as prevention trials and prevention and treatment of "opportunistic infections" like tuberculosis that kill people with HIV and AIDS.
Besides those efforts, Congress has approved funding increases for a range of HIV/AIDS programs, including an extra $262 million for the Ryan White CARE Act, an additional $32 million for HIV prevention programs through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an extra $21 million for Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS.