Antibodies found to fight HIV

In a recent study that could lead to a breakthrough in HIV vaccine research, scientists have identified 17 new antibodies with broad activity against the virus.

The research, which appears in the journal Nature and was conducted by a team from the Scripps Howard Research Institute and the International AIDS Initiative, shows that some of the new antibodies are 10 times more potent than any others that have been previously identified, according to WebMD. The study’s authors hope the new antibodies will be potential targets for HIV vaccines.

Vaccines operate by training the immune system to identify and destroy invading viruses. The body must be exposed to a harmless form of the virus to be targeted for this to occur. It has been extremely difficult to develop an HIV vaccine because the virus mutates more often than most pathogens.

 “Unlike other viruses, like measles or polio, you can’t just make a weakened form because HIV is crafty enough that if you weaken it the virus figures out a way to return to its virulent form,” IAVI Chief Science Officer Dr. Wayne Koff said, WebMD reports.

A small minority of those infected with HIV are able to produce antibodies that successfully target the virus. The researchers were able to study serum samples and find individuals who not only produced antibodies, but produced those capable of neutralizing a broad range of HIV subtypes at very low concentrations.

The study isolated the 17 new broadly neutralizing antibodies from a total of just four HIV-positive people. Experts say the research is exciting, but it remains to be seen whether it can lead to an effective vaccine against the disease.

“We have accomplished major milestones, but obviously the last milestone is the hardest,” Koff said, according to WebMD. “I would not want people to think that a vaccine is around the corner, but they ought to take away that it is feasible now and we have a rational path for moving forward.”