New Antibodies to HIV Found

After more than 15 years of trial and error, two powerful new antibodies to HIV have been discovered.  Research scientists at the Scripps Research Institute and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative are hoping that their recent discoveries may potentially lead to the development of a new way to immunize against the dreaded virus.

Although several HIV antibodies that aim to neutralize the virus have been available to the broad public, these latest antibodies are said to have 10 times more effective at disarming the virus-at least according to lab tests.  Researchers have also found out that these new antibodies are also effective against many HIV strains that have mutated.

"We looked at 162 different (HIV strains) and these antibodies neutralized 120 to 130 of strains from all across the world," says Dennis Burton of Scripps, the lead author of the study, which was recently published on Science journal.  "They certainly do not get everything, but if you are to get 80% or more of viruses circulating out there with one single antibody, that’s terrific."

The HIV’s ability to mutate rapidly upon finding a new host has been the biggest challenge for HIV vaccine makers, which could be the reason why a 2007 experiment of a then-promising AIDS vaccine not only failed to protect the subjects, but also appeared to raise the risk of infection.

Because of this setback, Burton’s team decided to take on a different approach in their experiment.  Traditionally, scientists tried to identify which portions of HIV elicited the best immune response.  Instead, they started with a pool of antibodies they knew could neutralize the virus, and then backtracked to determine how to entice the immune system into producing them.  The two antibodies they have discovered can effectively stop HIV, according to lab tests, by preventing it from binding to immune cells that provide it with the nutrients and machinery it needs to grow and reproduce.

The new discoveries have renewed some AIDS researchers’ faith that a vaccine can be a possibility. 

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