HIV/AIDS antibody graphicA recent breakthrough in research on HIV/AIDS looks to be the most promising progress made yet in the search for an effective vaccine. In the past, the HIV virus has eluded researchers’ attempts to develop an antibody – essentially something that binds to the virus and kills it – because HIV is notoriously mutable. This gives it the ability to survive attacks from the human immune system and from antibodies by mutating its surface and blocking the antibodies from attaching to it.1 As a result of its mutability, there are hundreds of different strains, which has been a barrier for scientists thus far in finding or developing an antibody that can neutralize a significant portion of the variations. But researchers have recently discovered a new antibody that is able to attach to a part of the HIV virus that rarely mutates, and have high hopes that this will help them develop a vaccine that could be used both to treat and to prevent HIV infections.2 This new antibody has been shown to block up to 90% of strains.3

Research for development of a vaccine using this antibody is still in its initial stages. It could still be many years before a useable vaccine could be on the market, and even longer before that vaccine could be made widely available and used universally. But it is hopeful news. In the meantime, the world must push on with comprehensive sex education, universal ARV treatments, safe needle exchange programs, and prenatal care to help avoid mother to child transmission. The XVIII International AIDS Conference happening July 18 – 23 in Vienna, Austria, will be addressing many of these issues. Check out my previous blog about the Conference here, and read more about the vaccine breakthrough on the National Institute of Health website and in the LA Times.

1Bay Area Reporter. “Antibody discovery lifts hope for an AIDS vaccine.” http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=4927

2National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. NIH News. “NIH-Led Scientists Find Antibodies that Prevent Most HIV Strains from Infecting Human Cells.” http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2010/Pages/HIVantibodies.aspx

3LA Times. “A breakthrough in AIDS research.” http://www.latimes.com/news/health/la-sci-hiv-antibodies-20100709,0,819851.story

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