New discovery could be boon to AIDS vaccine work

A study published in the online journal Nature says that a small percentage of people who are slow to progress to AIDS are helping researchers learn why some have a natural protection against HIV and may help in developing a vaccine for AIDS.

The BBC, in its report about the study, says that a vaccine that would help the larger HIV-infected population produce white blood cells more adept to fight the virus is still at least a decade away.

The research team, led by Harvard Professor Bruce Walker and MIT Professor Arup Chakraborty, found that about one in 200 people infected with HIV carry a specific gene that allows them to make a more potent type of white blood cell to fight the infections. The cells are particularly effective at battling HIV.

The research was conducted based on computer modeling of how immune cells develop in a specialized organ of the immune system known as the thymus.

"Some people are able to control HIV on their own and it's really critical for us to understand how this happens," Walker told The BBC. "This study takes us a step forward in understanding that."

"It shows another piece in the puzzle of what we want a vaccine to do," Chakraborty told The BBC.