There is new hope for an HIV vaccine

Since it was was first identified in 1983, HIV more infected 85 million people and causes approximately 40 million deaths worldwide.

While the drug is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection, so it must be taken daily to be effective. ONE Vaccine to provide long-term protection has eluded researchers for decades. Now, there may finally be a viable strategy for creating such a strategy.

An experimental vaccine developed at Duke University triggered an elusive broad spectrum of neutralizing antibodies in a small group of people enrolled in a 2019 clinical trial. These findings have published today in scientific journals Cell.

“This is one of the important studies,” said Glenda Gray, an HIV expert and president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council, who was not involved in the study. in the field of HIV vaccines to date.

A few years ago, a research team from Scripps Research and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) showed that it is possible Stimulates essential progenitor cells to produce these rare antibodies in humans. Duke’s research goes one step further in generating these antibodies, albeit at low levels.

“This is a scientific achievement and gives the field great hope that one can develop HIV vaccine regimens that direct the immune response in the pathways needed to protect against HIV,” Gray said. ”.

Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize a virus or other pathogen. They introduce something that looks like a virus—like part of a virus or a weaker version of a virus—and by doing so, boost the body’s B cells produces antibodies that protect against viruses. Those antibodies stick around so that when a person later encounters the real virus, the immune system will remember and be ready to attack.

While researchers can create COVID-19 vaccine within months, creating a vaccine against HIV has proven much more difficult. The problem is the unique nature of the virus. HIV mutates rapidly, meaning it can quickly overcome immune defenses. It also integrates into the human genome within days of exposure, hiding from the immune system.

“Parts of the virus look like our own cells, and we don’t want to make antibodies against them,” said Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and one of the paper’s authors. yourself again”.

The specific antibodies that researchers are interested in are called broadly neutralizing antibodies, which can recognize and block different versions of the virus. Because of the shape-shifting nature of HIV, there are two main types of HIV, and each type has many strains. An effective vaccine will need to target many of them.

Some people with HIV produce broadly neutralizing antibodies, Haynes said, although it often takes years of living with HIV to do so. Even then, people still don’t make enough of them to fight the virus. These special antibodies are produced by abnormal B cells filled with mutations that they acquire over time in response to viral changes inside the body. “These are strange antibodies,” Haynes said. “The body doesn’t make them easily.”


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