Monday June 16 2014

New antibodies that can fight HIV found

By Agatha Ayebazibwe

This new target, according to researchers offers a stable mark for vaccine design, increasing the potential to find a vaccine that can provide broad, lasting protection to people around the world.

“HIV has very few known sites of vulnerability, but in this work, we have described a new one, and we expect it will be useful in developing a vaccine,” said Dennis R. Burton, professor in TSRI’s Department of Immunology and Microbial Science and scientific director of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center.

The findings, reported in two studies published online in the May issue of Immunity.

Since 2009, researchers have established that a small proportion of HIV-infected individuals naturally generate antibodies known as bNAbs that fight against a wide range of HIV variants, but also identified a handful of regions they target on HIV and found they can prevent HIV infection in non-human primates.

A team of scientists led by Dr Burton, identified and described a promising new set of bNAbs saying that two of the antibodies in the series could block infection by more than two-thirds of HIV strains found in patients worldwide.

Dr Ismail Sebina, a Ugandan Cellular Immunologist based in Australia described the findings as promising saying that given how stubborn HIV is and how difficult it is to make major breakthroughs in this research area, “I think this work is worth celebrating and supplements all the steps in the right direction in pursuit of the elusive HIV vaccine.”

“What is interesting about this study is that scientists identified a target which can generate antibodies against the same target but on many different strains of the virus no matter how many times the virus changes,” says Dr Sebina.

Unlike some of the broadly neutralising antibodies previously known, targeted small sections of a specific antigen, Dr Sebina says the newly found antigens seem to target the entire region.

The researchers now think that by generating this target (antibodies) in the lab and making loads of it, purifying it and making it safe, the may be able vaccinate patients who may generate stronger antibody responses against the virus or in healthy individuals prior to them getting infected, just like other vaccines.