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Scientists say they have developed a genetically engineered vaccine that appears to hold the AIDS virus in check.

The researchers reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine that levels of T cells - the disease-fighting white blood cells that ordinarily are destroyed by the virus - have remained stable during more than two years of treatment in some people receiving the experimental vaccine.Scientists say it represents a new approach to fighting infection. Until now, vaccines have been used to ward off infection. But in the latest approach, doctors used a vaccine to beef up the body's virus-fighting powers after infection.

"I think it's very promising, particularly in terms of teaching us how the human body's immune system controls HIV," said Dr. Robert R. Redfield, a researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Rockville, Md. He directed the testing of the vaccine on 30 infected volunteers and wrote the report.

"It obviously gains in intrigue because not only is it safe, but it appears to be associated with short-term stabilization of T cells."

AZT, the only approved AIDS drug in the United States, is an anti-viral agent that prolongs the lives of victims by slowing the progression of the disease.